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The changing face of nursing

The practice nurse role is developing rapidly, writes Greta Marsh.

With practice nurses set to become the “must have” worker for general practices in the coming years, new opportunities are opening up for those in the profession.

In the past three years there has been a 15 per cent increase in the number of practice nurses (PN), with there now 8914 PNs, according to latest figures from the Australian General Practice Network (AGPN).

And this number will only increase if the government follows through on its federal budget announcement of providing new incentive funding for GPs to hire PNs.

“We estimate 80 per cent of practices will have at least one nurse by 2012 if this additional funding comes through,” says Dr Emil Djakic, AGPN chair.

Increased focus on primary care will also boost numbers.

To help meet this growing demand, universities across the country have been introducing a number of new courses.

One such course is the University of Sydney’s new master of nursing (nurse practitioner), developed to give registered nurses with advanced practice experience the opportunity to pursue a more advanced and extended clinical role.

The new program complements the recent health reforms and legislation broadening the scope of practice of the nurse practitioner.

The introduction of this program, which has been formally accredited by the Nurses and Midwives Board NSW for five years, provides the opportunity for registered nurses to undertake further study designed to prepare them as autonomous and collaborative health care providers, reflected in the recent reforms.

This legislation has granted the nurse practitioner working in primary health areas access to the Medical and Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedules (MBS and PBS) which will support their extended roles.

These include initiation of diagnostic investigations, prescription of medications and direct referrals to specialist medical practitioners.

Professor Jill White, dean of the university’s nursing school, says the nurse practitioner role was developing rapidly in the Australian health care system.

“We are going to see tremendous scope for nurse practitioners to contribute further to the community’s access to health care,” she sys
Dr Tom Buckley, coordinator of the new course at the University of Sydney, and a registered nurse since 1991, says there will be a number of opportunities the program provides for nursing students and the benefits for the health care system.

“Driven by an ageing population and the growing burden of chronic disease, demands on the current health system require all health practitioners to work to their fullest capacity,” Buckley says.

“Whether nurse practitioners work in rural or remote areas as the only available health care professional or in a busy emergency department of a major tertiary hospital, nurse practitioners function autonomously and collaboratively with other health professionals to facilitate timely access to health services as well as provide expert nursing care.”

In preparing for this role, the new course allows students to draw on practical and theoretical learning and synthesise prior learning and education.

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