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Nurse hits the road to promote careers

Three outstanding nurses were recognised in last month’s HESTA Australian nursing awards. By Linda Belardi.

Combining an innovative 10-metre trailer, simulation technology and the ingenuity of a nurse, CQUniversity nursing lecturer, Nicholas Ralph has developed the world’s first roving community-based health recruitment vehicle.

The award-winning mobile clinical learning unit will travel throughout regional Queensland, interacting with the community and promoting careers in health to help address critical workforce needs. The Sunshine Coast alone will require 50 000 additional health professionals over the next 20 years.

Ralph, a nursing lecturer with a background in critical care and perioperative nursing, was named the HESTA Australian Nurse of the Year (Innovation in Nursing) this month for his pioneering design.

Using simulation technology, the project will recreate common professional scenarios offering the community the opportunity to test their clinical skills in areas such as basic life support and to get a taste for what a health career has to offer.

“The aim is to engage the community with the idea of pursuing a career in health through the use of clinical learning opportunities such as simulation. By mobilising our expertise, we make our efforts as accessible to the public as possible,” he told Nursing Review.

While simulated environments are commonly used in nursing education, this cutting edge industry technology is rarely made available to the public.

The health promotion vehicle aims to promote a career in nursing, medicine or paramedics in the same way that watching a reality TV show starring doctors and nurses engages a public audience, he said.

“We can engage the community similarly by putting our own skills on display and demonstrating what we would actually do on a patient using a simulator.

“The idea is to really simply and clearly articulate what’s happened to the patient; what we are doing, and how these skills are actually part of the health workforce skill set,” he said.

The split-level trailer towed by a Chevrolet twin-cab pickup includes an upper simulation deck and a high tech simulation manikin that sweats, bleeds and blinks.

The project aims to target as many health careers as possible and plans to visit schools, shopping centres and sports grounds to educate the public. Preliminary trialling of the simulation labs with school students has been positive.

It is hoped the mobile learning unit will help support the unemployed or those looking for a career change to find a job in health and to contribute to the significant skills shortage in the sector.

“The nursing workforce and shortages are significant and we need to find a solution pretty quickly or there is going to be a worse shortage then there already is,” he said.

After their simulation experience, individuals who express an interest in health can then have their details recorded on the system’s database and forwarded on to relevant education and training providers or employers to advance new career opportunities.

“If someone is interested in becoming an Assistant in Nursing for example, we can refer them to complete a certificate III course and to an interested employer who can then offer them a job.”

Ralph says the message that health is a growth sector with diverse opportunities could be communicated to the community with greater success.

“Especially in regional areas where there is high unemployment comparative to the rest of the nation, I think people haven’t seen a future for themselves in healthcare yet. Perhaps, it is because many people don’t fully understand the opportunities that exist in the region, the level of demand for health professionals and the degree of flexibility of the study and training options that are available to them, including distance education.”

In the last six months, Nick has been refining the project’s business model and is currently in discussions with funding bodies to fund a large-scale rollout.

The unit’s cost effective design allows the vehicle to be run and operated by one person and requires significantly less fuel and maintenance than a semi-trailer, making the project financially viable.

“I envisage a day when we can put a business case to the government that this type of initiative should be rolled out across Australia in areas of need,” he said.

The $10 000 funding grant attached to the award can help support an evaluation of the project and establish a research project.

“Initial anecdotal feedback has been positive, but until we’re actually at the coalface, I don’t think we’ll get a full sense of how we can refine the project to best achieve our set goals.”

Members of the public who have used the vehicle will be followed up at scheduled intervals to evaluate their experience of the unit and whether the information they received led to education or employment in the health sector.

“I’m hopeful that we can really make a difference. I really believe that education and employment is the key to societal improvement and the overall prosperity of Australia”.

The Mobile Clinical Learning Unit, which is in its first stage of development, is expected to hit the road in 2013.

urse of the Year recognised for nurturing homegrown talent

Faced with critical recruitment and retention problems in regional Queensland, Jenny Anderson decided to grow her own nursing workforce.

In 2009, after stepping into the role of Nursing Unit Manager amidst poor morale and faced with increasing patient numbers, Anderson committed to hiring and training a number of new graduates.

In the past three years, 7 nursing graduates have been trained to staff the once struggling Rockhampton Hospital Renal Service, along with a group of nurses who moved across from other wards in the hospital – none of whom had renal experience.

“The service is still very busy but we do have workforce capacity,” Anderson told Nursing Review.

Nominated by her Nursing Director, she is credited with rebuilding this vital rural health service, which also services the needs of significant numbers of indigenous patients. In recognition of her outstanding leadership and vision, Anderson has been named the winner of the 2012 Nurse of the Year award.

“Currently, we are able to staff not just our own unit, but also the satellite unit which we have opened at Gladstone Hospital in February. There’s lots of young staff here but they are full of energy and keen to learn.”

The hospital’s expanding chronic disease program in the community also operates on a staff rotation basis. Due to the growth in the number of patients commencing on dialysis, the service has had to expand significantly.

Currently the renal service is supporting more than an extra 200 dialysis treatments per month compared with 2009. In light of these statistics, the staff under Anderson’s direction have made a significant commitment to training patients for home therapies.

“For those patients who are able to do that, they are able to live a much easier life because they can do their own dialysis to suit their social calendars, rather than fitting into a busy schedule in a hospital setting,” she said.

Some of those graduates who commenced in 2009 are also now filling senior roles in the service.

“To see them grow and to be able to manage a busy clinical environment is very rewarding.

“I’d certainly encourage other units, especially those in difficult to recruit areas to have a look at what you have available to you locally and not to feel that perhaps you need to go to other areas to manage your workforce.”

A natural born leader

Charles Sturt University graduate and Bathurst nurse, Brenden Stapleton has been named the Graduate Nurse of the Year.

Stapleton was nominated for his natural leadership and passion to improve the support available to patients requiring palliative care, especially in rural areas.

Stapleton will soon begin a master’s degree, studying acute and chronic illness, palliative care and pain management. He hopes to develop a pathway program for patients and families going through the palliative care system and to enter nursing management.

“To be influential I believe you need to have the right combination of floor-level experience and education and that is my motivation to complete my masters, complete a management course and continue working on the ground with patients and families,” he said.

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