Nursing specialities are no more required for a nursing degree in Australia, despite the trend towards more graduates pursuing these specialties.
With more than 70 per cent of the nation’s nursing graduates now working in nursing, the issue of requiring graduates to be in a nursing speciality was raised during the Federal Government’s first budget, when the minister for the health portfolio, Simon Birmingham, announced that all post-secondary nursing degrees were required.
However, with the trend of more graduates moving to a more career-focused life, the government has now changed its mind.
The changes to the curriculum for nursing specialities were announced during the Budget, which included a proposal to increase the proportion of post-graduate students who would pursue a nursing major.
According to the minister, it was the right move for all Australian post-graduates, including those who had been previously pursuing a speciality.
“While it is important to have a strong understanding of the skills and knowledge that we will need to practice our nursing practice in a modern, diverse and inclusive society, the importance of having a strong degree in a specialised field is no longer required for entry into the profession,” he said in a statement.
While this may seem like a step backwards for a profession that has historically required a strong knowledge of all aspects of the human condition, Dr Helen Bowers, chief executive officer of the Australian Medical Association, said it was important to remember that many of the specialties that were once required had been established with specific funding, and that there were still many graduates with an interest in this area who were not pursuing a post-doctorate degree.
“[Actors, nurses, midwives, mid-wives and family doctors] were the major specialties to develop within the medical profession in the 1950s and 1960s,” she said.
Dr Bowers said the changes were not the end of the matter, and continued to encourage students to continue their education and continue their careers in the profession.
She also said that there was no reason why the majority of nursing graduates should be required to take up a specialty, as there were already many nursing students pursuing these skills.
“As we have always been saying, we do not need more nurses, but we do need to have enough nurses,” she told the ABC.
Professor Paul Hickey, a senior lecturer in nursing at the University of Sydney, said there was a clear trend towards increasing the proportion to 20 per cent by 2020, and there was currently a need for graduates to have their speciality studied in a broader way.
“This is something we’ve been seeing for some time,” he told the Australian Financial Review.
It’s important for young people to have more skills and a greater variety of experience in order to continue in a career they want, he said.
“There’s also the issue that there are more students who want to study nursing than in other areas, which may be because of other factors that affect the demand.”
Professor Hickey said the increase in demand for nursing graduates, and in particular those in specialties like paediatrics and obstetrics, was due to increased demand in Australia from the medical, pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical-related industries.
“We are seeing that as the demand increases in a way that can be good for the profession, and for people who are in the health field,” he added.
As a result, the demand for students pursuing a nursing diploma has increased, with a higher proportion of the population having taken up a nursing postgraduate degree.
“The number of students taking up a postgraduate qualification in a particular speciality has been steadily increasing over time, and now there are over 40 per cent,” he explained.
But Dr Bowers warned that this would not always be the case.
Ms Bowers stressed that students would not be able to fully participate in the workforce without having a degree.
“The degree is a stepping stone for those people who want a career in a profession,” she explained.
“It’s not just about the ability to work in a hospital, it’s about working in a community health centre, or in a workplace, or something like that.
You need a degree in some areas of health, but that is not necessarily the case in all areas of nursing.”
Ms Birmingham, who is currently the Minister for Health, has said that all graduates would continue to be able pursue a post graduate degree in nursing if they chose to, but he said this would only be for the majority.
Currently, only about 10 per cent have a degree, he told ABC Radio in February.
This is in stark contrast to the figures for the last four years, which showed that about 25 per cent had a degree and another 25 per a post degree, indicating that there is a strong demand for post graduate education.
Despite the increase, Professor Hickey cautioned that it was not the answer to all of the concerns that many students have about the cost