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Enrolled nursing education shake-up welcomed

A new minimum standard for enrolled nurse education represents an important opportunity to advance the skills and career pathway of this role. Linda Belardi reports.

Peak bodies representing enrolled nurses have praised changes to enrolled nurse education as a significant professional leap forward for Australia’s growing enrolled nursing workforce.

From July, 2014, all enrolled nurse training through Australia’s Vocational Educational and Training (VET) system will be delivered at the diploma level.

Maryanne Craker, president of the National Enrolled Nurse Association of Australia (NENA), said the association had been campaigning for a national enrolled nurse course delivered at the diploma level since the association’s inception in 1995.

“This is a very significant milestone in enrolled nurse education,” she told Nursing Review.
Christine Anderson, President of the Enrolled Nurse Professional Association (ENPA) NSW, said the new education standard would create a more skilled nursing workforce.

“It is an important advancement in enrolled nurse education and their capacity and competencies in the workplace. It also provides an important opportunity for enrolled nurses to move forward with their career path,” she told NR.

The Certificate IV in Nursing has been deleted from the national Health Training Package which was endorsed on April 20 and will be phased out over the next 12 months. No new students will be able to enrol in a Certificate IV in Nursing program after 1 July 2014.

The changes will be felt most keenly in NSW and Victoria which are the only two states that currently deliver both the diploma and Certificate IV in Nursing courses for enrolled nurse education.

All other states and territories have already moved to the diploma qualification as the entry to practice standard for enrolled nurses.

The Diploma in Nursing qualification was added to the national health training package in 2008 but was not endorsed as the national entry to practice standard until the national registration and accreditation scheme was introduced in 2010. Up until that point, enrolled nurse educational standards differed according to the various state and territory jurisdictions.

Currently 35 education providers in NSW and Victoria have approval by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia to deliver the Certificate IV qualification and will be required to phase out the course. However, a similar number of approved diploma programs (34) currently exist in NSW and Victoria, according the NMBA’s approved program of study list.

Rod Cooke, CEO of the Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council, said RTOs are not required to transfer to the new training package immediately if it disadvantages the student’s continuing training or prevents the student from gaining their statement of attainment for the qualification they enrolled in.

“However, students who do wish to move on immediately into the diploma from the Certificate IV should find it fairly straightforward due to the way the qualifications and units are structured,” he said.

While enrolled nurses currently registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) won’t be required to articulate their qualifications to the diploma level, Craker said many ENs in Victoria have already elected to do so to increase their employability.

Victoria has one of the largest enrolled nurse populations in the country, with approximately one third of all Australian enrolled nurses working there.

In 2010 there 4042 students enrolled in a Certificate IV in nursing program in Victoria (3700) and NSW (307).

Anderson agreed that in the future, ENs with only a Certificate IV may find it difficult to procure employment.

For students of nursing that commence a NMBA approved Certificate IV in Nursing prior to 30 June 2014, they will be required to complete the program by no later than 30 June 2015 to be eligible to apply for registration with the national board. Students unable to complete the Certificate IV in Nursing in this timeframe will be required to transition to a NMBA approved Diploma of Nursing.

However, Craker said the current cost of the Diploma qualification due a lack of subsidised training places was an ongoing concern. Without government subsidy, an enrolled nursing diploma can cost more than $15,000 to complete.

She also said some of the rural and regional RTOs in Victoria have also decided not to reaccredit their diploma in nursing course due to the cost of renewing course accreditation.

“Due to the high costs involved, there is a risk that opportunities for attending enrolled nurse courses will reduce,” she said.

“This is really worrying, especially when we have an ageing population that is living longer with a lot more co-morbidities and we need those enrolled nurses in our health system.”

In NSW Anderson said approximately 1500 trainees had completed the enrolled nursing diploma in the last 12 months.

In other changes in the VET sector, the NENA has expressed concern over new ANMAC policy affecting the educational requirements of teaching staff in the diploma of nursing program.

The policy announced by ANMAC at the end of 2011 will require enrolled nurse educators to hold a higher educational qualification then they are teaching, in this case, a bachelor degree. Educators have five years to transition to a bachelor degree or become ineligible to teach the Diploma of Nursing Program in the VET sector.

“This will mean enrolled nurses will no longer be able to teach other enrolled nurses,” said Craker.
She said the association had not been consulted about the policy change and the rationale or evidence for the decision remained unclear.

“We already have a gross shortage of nursing educators and this policy will only add to it.”

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