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Staying ahead of the pack

Further study opens new doors for nurses.

Nursing education has rapidly progressed in recent years, with masters study available in a diverse range of areas including clinical nursing, and speciality fields such as diabetes and midwifery.
The best balance for a nurse is clinical experience with the desire and ability to research, gained through masters or PhD experiences, according to Professor Anne Ramelet.

“Clinicians are the ones who come up with the best clinical research questions,” says Ramelet.
Ramelet completed her PhD on pain assessment for critically ill infants at Curtin University of Technology in 2008, and significantly contributed to Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH). With her first role as a nurse in the paediatric intensive care unit, Ramelet was then promoted to a quality research coordinator, a role created as a result of her PhD study.

Her contribution was further recognised with a promotion to nurse researcher, and clinical research fellow during her final year with PMH.

“My PhD study opened a lot of doors for me, that’s for sure,” she says.

Those doors includes Ramelet’s current role as professor of nursing at the School of Health, University of Applied Science, Western Switzerland. This position required she had a PhD in nursing science.

Though common perception may be that completing a masters or PhD is the primary concern of academics, those working within industry are also reaping the rewards of postgraduate study at a higher level.

One such case is Sara Bayes. Soon to complete her PhD study in women’s experiences in caesarean section, Bayes attributes her current position of project manager for research study at King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH) to her masters study.

“The research I became involved in as project manager at KEMH led to the subject matter of my PhD, so my career and study are very interconnected,” says Bayes.

Bayes says all sort of postgraduate opportunities exist for midwives, and those considering further study should go for it.

“Studying a PhD is good for your career development, providing opportunities to meet people at different organisational levels, people you may not have ordinarily been exposed to,” she says.
“PhD study questions what we are doing, and how we may be able to do things better.”

Head of Curtin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, Professor Phillip Della says postgraduate study is imperative in progressing nursing and midwifery as professions, and in improving the quality of patient care.

“Though there are always opportunities at a clinical level to evaluate what we are doing, PhD study provides an opportunity to really analyse the delivery of service and the needs of a patient,” says Della.

“If more nurses undertook masters and PhD study, more healthcare environments would benefit from the important research undertaken as part of these tertiary programs.”

Though staff within public hospitals benefit from government scholarships, according to director of nursing at Western Australia’s Joondalup Health Campus, Shane Combs, many of his private sector staff are not offered this kind of support. This can sometimes leads to a lack of interest in postgraduate study, he says.

“Being a private employer, we only seem to receive scholarships for staff within public type areas, such as nurse practitioners. Many of my staff must cover their fees themselves,” says Combs.

Combs has completed a masters of clinical nursing, and while not a requirement of his current role, he believes it will be needed when he is ready to further progress his career.

“I have gradually furthered my study, so I could stay ahead of the pack. My masters will be a requirement in time,” Combs says.

However, Combs says undertaking this level of study still appears daunting for many nurses in the field.

“They can do an undergraduate degree, they can do a postgraduate or graduate certificate, but going to the next level seems to be daunting.”

Universities around the country make no secret of the fact that masters and PhD study are not for the light hearted, and prospective students need to seriously consider other commitments before diving in.

Ramelet agrees that undertaking postgraduate study requires a strong constitution. “You need a great deal of self motivation, and it can be quite a challenging time financially. You need support,” says Ramelet.

However, the hard work does pay off.

“It’s great satisfaction when it’s done. If not for my study, I would probably still be in clinical practice,” says Ramelet.

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