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Constant changes

Professor Phillip Della, head of School of Nursing & Midwifery at Curtin University talks to Aileen Macalintal about his vision for Australia’s nurses.

As head of Curtin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, what do you think are the greatest challenges to nurses nowadays?

In the role of head of school, I see many challenges, opportunities and threats that have always and will continue to weigh down nurses and the profession. The call once again is for nurses and the profession to seize the opportunities and endeavour to minimise the threats.

While this may be easy for a head of school to state, it is my firm belief that only when all nurses take up the opportunity to change the current status of the profession will we see real change.

Unless this occurs, the control and dominance of the profession will largely remain in the hands of those outside of nursing.

In the near future, nurses in the clinical area will continue to struggle to provide quality patient care in a financially constrained environment.

The struggle is associated with the chronic under-funding of health despite the growing community demand for care.

It is well known that the growing demand for health care is associated with the Australian aging demographic and the increase in chronic disease in the community. This, combined with current financial constraints, will see the nursing workforce shortages increase and at times nurses may be willing to work, but will not be able to secure paid employment.

With constant government reforms, how should our nurses adapt to change?

While governments endeavour to balance their fiscal budgets, the emphasis on health system change and reforms will become the norm.

Nurses are at the forefront of health systems reform and too often left to implement changes and new systems without the resources they require. Nurses must seize the opportunity to enhance and expand their roles. That will improve patient outcomes.

There is abundance of evidence on the advantages of new nursing roles, including advanced practice roles, such as nurse practitioners that not only reduces fragmentation of patient care but also leads to improved health outcomes.

You will be speaking at ICN in May on changing scopes of practice in nursing – can you tell us a little of what you intend to discuss?

Nursing scopes of practice are about what nurses do and this is always changing and adapting with the evolving health care environments. While the presentation at the ICN Symposium in May will discuss the components and the complexity of scopes of nursing practice, it will also challenge the status quo.

This will include the changing scope of nursing with the introduction of advanced, extended and enhanced roles.

While nurses have been educated and prepared for these roles, artificial barriers are often put in place that prevent full incorporation into health systems and thus limit their effectiveness.

Artificial barriers are often developed and put into place by powerful groups outside of the nursing profession.

Thus the presentation will examine how nurses and the nursing profession can challenge and limit artificial influences on scopes of nursing practice.

Can you tell us more about the importance of this event?

The ICN Congress is a global platform to allow international nursing leaders the opportunity to openly discuss debate and exchange ideas on the future directions.

We are fortunate that this year the congress will be in Melbourne, which will afford many more Australian nurses the opportunity to actively participate.

One of the major themes this year will be nursing contribution to the health of individual, families and communities. This is one area that I have great interest in and will be looking forward to being a part of the debate.

The congress also will allow many nurses to present their work, research and scholarly projects to an international audience.

What are you currently working on in terms of research or projects?

My research continues to focus on changing and reforming health care systems and the nurse’s role.

I am currently a chief investigator on two Australian Research Council projects with research colleagues.

The first national research project focuses on clinical handover in a range of clinical settings.
Professor Di Slade from the University of Technology, Sydney is leading the team, which involves nurses, doctors, linguists and clinical psychologists.

The second continues research with professor Glenn Gairdner (Queensland University of Technology) and is studying the clinical outcomes of nurse practitioners in Australian emergency departments. I am fortunate to be working with professor Wendy Cross from Monash on reviewing the enrolled nurse competencies.

What inspired you to take this path?

Prior to commencing the role of head of school, I gained experience in public administration in health care and patient safety and quality.

My previous roles included the position of the chief nursing officer, Western Australia and it was during this time I decided to move to academia.

While the head of school affords me the opportunity to help shape the future of nursing education, it has also allowed me to offer public comment on the changing role of health care, nurses and the profession.

What are the joys of being the head of School of Nursing and Midwifery?

The greatest joy of the role is the success of the students. This commences from their initial interest in the nursing program and their education journey and ultimately their graduation.

The nursing graduates are the future workforce and will shape the future for the profession and health system.

What is your vision for Australia’s nurses?

I have a strong and positive vision for Australia’s nurses which include them taking full advantage of their education preparation for advanced nursing roles in our health care system.

This will see autonomous and collaborative practice with nurses taking leadership roles in patient care, management, education and research that will improve patient care and health outcomes of the community.

Nurses will also be positively and financially rewarded and recognised for their active contribution.

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