Steps towards Empowerment: An Examination of Colleges, Health Services and Universities

By McAllister, Margaret; Williams, Leonie Mosel et al. | Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Steps towards Empowerment: An Examination of Colleges, Health Services and Universities


McAllister, Margaret, Williams, Leonie Mosel, Gamble, Tara, Malko-Nyhan, Kris, Jones, Christian M., Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession


INTRODUCTION

Nurse education at all levels in Australia is acknowledged worldwide as being comprehensive and of a high academic standard (Heath, 2002). However, this tenet is being challenged by significant changes in population demographics, service delivery systems and health care professional roles (Baltimore, 2006; Benner, Sutphen, Leonard, & Day, 2009; Wieclaw, Agerbo, Mortensen, & Bonde, 2006). Health Service delivery systems and the roles of those who work within them are likely to continue to develop given the recent reelection of the Labor Federal Government whose aims include reform of the health system through the 'stepping up' of a primary health care agenda (Australian Government National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, 2009). In order to produce and inspire the critical and creative thinkers that will be needed to take this agenda forward in health services, an effective, empowered nurse education sector is needed.

Nurse educators, however, are in short supply worldwide (Hegney, Eley, & Plank, 2006). Many are reaching retirement age, and according to US-based reports, are being diverted to work in areas other than education because conditions and professional development opportunities are being eroded (Benner et al., 2009).

In Australia, nurse educators work across three main contexts; these include Universities - where degree and post-degree studies are offered - Institutes of Training and Further Education (TAFE) - where certificate and diploma courses are offered and in clinical environments where healthservice based precepting and supervision occurs.

Perhaps because nursing is considered a skillbased profession, educators are frequently appointed because of their clinical expertise. Whilst they may be expert practitioners, as educators they are likely to be novices. In Australia there are no consistent or national requirements for nurse educators to have educational qualifications. Ironically, however, position descriptions commonly expect that educators use an evidence-base in their teaching practice. For example, an examination of position descriptions advertised online indicate that only a very small number of positions require some form of educational qualification. This is highlighted in policy documents from The Royal College of Nursing Australia that indicate while postgraduate studies in education are beneficial to the role of nurse educators and that the knowledge of evidence-based practice of nurse educators is critical to the provision of optimal care, there are no mandatory requirements (Royal College of Nursing Australia, 2011). It is difficult to understand how and where these educators would acquire this evidence base, without opportunities to formally and informally learn educational theories and strategies.

Whilst working conditions, experiences and needs of nurse educators have not been widely researched in Australia, Cruickshank (2003) found that Australian nurse educators want more opportunities to collaborate and work in teams. Educators themselves identify a need to learn, share and develop teaching and learning strategies.

Penn, Wilson, and Rosseter (2008) have argued that nurse educators require considerable support, particularly in making a successful transition from a clinical to a teaching role, but that collaboration and peer networking was not common. Valiga (2006) has also stated it is very important for nurse educators to be well informed about current education-focused research. There also needs to be thoughtful critique of that research in order to identify trends and patterns and to revise understandings and continually improve teaching practices relevant to changing needs in learners, and changes in nursing practice. This can only be achieved when this evidence-based information is widely disseminated to nurse educators and when the culture of the working environment for nurse educators values and fosters critical thinking, dialogue and knowledge generation. …

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