STUDENT nurses gathered at Leinster House to call for an increase to their starting salary of €22,000.
They claimed the graduate salary, which works out to be less than the minimum wage at just €6.49 per hour, is forcing them to emigrate.
While graduate nurses earned a salary of €26,000 in 2011, that figure has since dropped by €4,000, while pay increments have also been frozen.
Graduates who apply to the HSE's Graduate Nursing Scheme must now also complete a two year part-time certificate, which includes night classes and assignments on top of their 39-hour working week.
Sarah Farrell (31), a second-year mature student at Trinity College Dublin, said she is "scared" at the prospect of trying to live on just €22,000 upon graduation.
The mother of one from Knockylon in Dublin said: "I've tried to think how on earth that €22,000 after four years of studying is going to support the two of us. It just won't."
Ms Farrell is four weeks into 14 weeks of unpaid work experience, which she must complete as part of her second year.