As accelerated nursing courses become an important part of modern student education, it is time to take a closer look at this unique cohort, writes Mark Neil.
Graduate-entry or accelerated nursing education began in Australia in the mid-1990s to enable graduates from a discipline other than nursing to enter the profession through a shorter study pathway.
Currently 15 graduate-entry programs are offered nationally. Through these programs graduates from a wide variety of backgrounds come together to pursue the common goal of becoming a Registered Nurse. Research shows that their educational backgrounds and life experiences equip them with skills and abilities, which can enrich nursing. Essentially the graduate-entry courses enable people to become nurses who might not otherwise have considered the option were it not for the accelerated pathway.
My research of graduate-entry nursing students arose from my own experience of entering the profession in my early thirties after a career in commerce. Ten years after this decision, I regard it as one of the most important and productive choices I have ever made.
I found that a graduate-entry nursing degree in a reduced period provided myself and other students with opportunities for using previously acquired skills and abilities to enable progression through an intense course.
Undergraduate study gives skills in research, writing, and critical thinking, which can then used to help negotiate the terrain of an often entirely new area of knowledge. Research by Penprase and Koczara, in 2009 and Raines in 2007 found graduate-entry students achieved high academic results because they were able to begin the course and ''hit the ground running''. They found that underpinning accelerated learning was the recognition that students were adult learners who already had the abilities to successfully complete the rigours necessary for a bachelor degree.
Importantly, graduates with previous careers entered the clinical environment with an advanced level of professionalism, which assisted them to interact within the multidisciplinary team at a more functional level.
My own experiences and research highlight that previously developed professional skills certainly helped graduate-entry students apply the theoretical knowledge gained at university through more developed critical thinking. This builds confidence and also begins to validate the decision to pursue a new career in nursing as a mature adult.
As graduate-entry nursing students are adult learners, each has built-up valuable knowledge and skills arising from an eclectic array of life experiences. Research has also shown that the caring element inherent in nursing is a powerful attractor to pursue nursing. Other life experiences prompting consideration of a career as a registered nurse include witnessing the nursing role as a patient, the loss of a significant other, or the arrival of a juncture in life where a life direction change is necessary. So the graduate-entry cohort brings to the nursing profession a range of skills, which are well suited to patient care and interaction with other healthcare disciplines.
An accelerated nursing course is, however, more than applying previously acquired skills. The reduced timeframe and intensity of the program is a source of elevated stress and difficulty. Not only have students possibly left a successful career, adjusted personal lifestyles and finances, and gained approval from family members, all are things needed to acquire an often entirely new knowledge base.
Students can be overwhelmed by the intensities of a graduate-entry nursing program.
However, as pointed out earlier, research shows adult learners are able to draw on an accumulated set of skills to mitigate these course intensities and complete the program at a high level. Other coping mechanisms are also needed. These include maintaining the strong desire to become a nurse as a mature student, using the maturity previously developed, and forming close collegial relationships with fellow graduate-entry students. After all, accelerated students are there with the certainty, commitment, and dedication to complete the degree in a condensed period.
I certainly regard graduate-entry nursing students as a unique cohort. They all have individual journeys to nursing and begin a program equipped with numerous skills and abilities. Once in the clinical environment, they are able to apply theoretical knowledge and critical thinking at a higher level and function professionally within the multidisciplinary team.
Minimal Australian research into these students is available, and so many opportunities exist where deeper knowledge can be gained. This knowledge could help with the refinement of existing courses and the development of new ones. Graduate-entry nursing courses should be as unique as the potential students. As such, courses should be offered that entice graduates to enter the nursing profession and bring with them their acquired skills.
Such a reality would surely benefit the nursing profession and the care patients receive. As accelerated nursing courses are now part of modern nursing education, it is reasonable to suggest that a sound understanding of these students is necessary to prepare nurses ready to meet the challenges of 21st century health care demands.
Mark Neil is a lecturer with the school of nursing and midwifery at Flinders University. A fully referenced version of this article is available upon request.Do you have an idea for a story?
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