Nyaradzo Masendeke entered the UK from Zimbabwe in 2001 and was granted six months to stay, on condition she did not work and was not allowed to claim public funds.
But after staying longer than she was allowed, she obtained £19,555 in tuition fees for a diploma course at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol Crown Court heard.
Then she obtained a further £36,961 from an NHS bursary.
Masendeke, 28, of Ashman Court, Marina Gardens, pleaded guilty to three charges of false accounting and one charge of using a false instrument.
The recorder, Mr Lou Sellick, told her: "You were allowed to be here six months, without working and without using public funds.
"You over-stayed, you obtained tuition fees and to support yourself you obtained a bursary.
"You obtained counterfeit leave to remain, which you put into your passport."
Robert Reid, prosecuting, said: "This prosecution is because of the importance of NHS integrity and the important trust between the NHS and the public put at risk if it is staffed by people committing fraud."
In 2002 Masendeke applied to UWE to take a course in mental health nursing but omitted to reveal the extent of her right to be in the UK, Mr Reid said.
The court heard she secured funding for tuition fees and then a bursary to support herself.
Mr Reid told the court: "This is aggravated because part of that £36,000 accounted for a baby she had in 2006. Those fees went into her bank account, but it was found that the child had never been with either nursery on an application form but is now in South Africa."
The court heard Masendeke obtained her diploma and got a nursing job at Dean Healthcare.
She was arrested in August and confessed she had paid £200 for fake documentation, the court heard.
David Miller, defending, said his client left Zimbabwe aged 17, fearing that her family’s life and her life was in danger.
He said: "She is not an evil, dangerous or sinister person.
"She entirely accepts that she lied and has to now face the consequences.
"She is hoping to marry her partner, who is British, and may be given leave to remain indefinitely."
The court heard Masendeke had been refused asylum in the UK, but been given leave to stay until April next year. – This is Bristol