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A speedy solution

Qualified nurses will be in even greater demand in the coming years, writes Greta Marsh.

Australia needs more nurses. Now.

The skills shortage that is being experienced not just in Australia, but across the world, is only going to get worse, say experts both in and out of the profession.

Recruitment strategies, including financial incentives, have so far failed to properly address the problem. This is forcing policy makers, employers and educators to try something different.

As part of its response to the severe undersupply of nurses in an already strained health system, the University of Queensland has developed a fast-tracked Master of Nursing Studies (Graduate Entry) degree that can be completed in 18 months.

The program is being offered to graduates of other disciplines, dependant on grade point average and date of completion of their initial degree.

A 2010 report by Queensland Health reveals that by 2017 there will be an undersupply of between 3284 and 4961 registered nurses.

The same report reveals this undersupply may increase by up to 99.5 pr cent in 2020 with a shortage of up to 9897 nurses.

According to the UQ School of Nursing and Midwifery Associate Professor Stephanie Fox-Young, the fast-tracked course enrolled 19 students into the program in 2010 the program’s inaugural year.

The Department of Health and Ageing states the Australian nursing workforce is ageing with in excess of one-third of nurses over the age of 50. This, Fox-Young believes, will be a leading cause of the predicted future undersupply of nurses.

“Naturally, as the nursing workforce ages, the next decade will see a large number of nurses retiring and this will place additional strain on an already stressed health system,” she said.

“Our fast-tracked program aims to future-proof this undersupply as much as possible and provide qualified nurses who will be in even greater demand in the coming years,” she said.

The Graduate Entry Masters program offers students the option of completing a summer semester after the first year, cutting six months from the program and helping to deliver more nurses into the health system faster.

One potential nurse considering the fast-track approach is 26-year-old Brisbane resident Kelly Sayles.

With a degree in communications, Sayles currently works in public relations. If she becomes a nurse it wouldn’t be filling a long-held dream.

The PR company Sayles works for is in the health industry and every day since starting there two years ago she will hear or read about the nurse shortage.

“I have a lot of health publications that come across my desk and without fail there will be an article on how the health system is struggling because they don’t have enough people,” she says.

“In my role I have also made a lot of friends who are nurses, so I hear it from them as well.”

Not completely satisfied with her job, Sayles decided she wanted a complete career change. When thinking about what this may be, the stories she had read and heard
played through her mind. That’s when she nursing became a real consideration.

“I thought that if I was going to change careers, why not make it something that would make a difference to people,” she says. One deterrent of doing this was having to return to study.

“While I loved my time at university, returning for two years was a daunting prospect.”

“That is why the idea of fast-track courses is so appealing. Six months may not seem like a significant time but as those who have studied before know, it can seem like a very long time. It also means I can start earning money earlier, which is important when you have bills to pay.”

Head of The UQ School of Nursing and Midwifery, Professor Catherine Turner, says the masters degree had been well received.

“Nursing, with its possibilities for role diversity, flexible working hours, travel and research opportunities, is an attractive career for many people, particularly those seeking to make a social contribution and with a genuine desire to help others,” she says.

Go to www.nursing-midwifery.uq.edu.au.

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