Slow learners on nurse education

The Lamp asks an academic, undergraduate coordinator and nursing student for their perspective on the current state of nurse education.

‘Nursing is full on but I love it’ Samantha Ruggeri is a second year nursing student at UTS who decided to do nursing after working in a nursing home.

‘The course is pretty full on. I love it now, it suits me, I love helping people.

‘I’m finding it hard to juggle between being available for work and going to uni. It’s difficult to find time to relax and do other things.

‘Besides uni I work in a nursing home as an AiN. Some weeks I would do 28 hours of paid work. I go to uni three days a week from 9am till 4pm. Some days I go straight to work from uni so I would be starting at 9 in the morning and get home at 9.30 in the evening.’

Samantha tries to keep her weekends free but she does work some Sundays. ‘And there’s always homework to do.’

‘It’s all pretty full on and I’m struggling financially. I do find it tough.

‘Text books are expensive – it can cost me $200 a book. I’d spend about $300 a semester on books. The lecturers try to make it easier by putting a lot of the articles up on the internet. It also costs about $1,500 a semester for fees,’ she said.

Not enough clinical places for student nurses

Elizabeth Schlossberger coordinates undergraduate clinical places at Prince of Wales Hospital. This involves liaising with 12 universities and placing 500 students per year.

‘We get requests for ten times more,’ she says.

Elizabeth says universities are having great difficulty getting clinical places for student nurses in our hospitals and many students that do get a placement are not necessarily getting the right type of education for the discipline they want to follow.

‘Politicians talk about increasing student numbers, especially at election time, but the real issue is the lack of clinical places. How can we bring more students into study nursing when we can’t give them quality clinical experience?

‘Students need to practise their skills, feel part of a team and learn time management if it is to be a positive learning experience.

‘It is the quality of clinical placements that is the issue. If students are not learning because nursing staff are too stressed from overwork or not interested, than why bother?’

Elizabeth says nurses should recognise that it’s part of their professional role to teach students and contribute to the quality of clinical placements. However, there is a need to equip RNs with more capacity to teach students.

‘For other health professionals like doctors it’s a given that it’s a part of their professional role. There needs to be an increased recognition by nurses that it’s part of their professional responsibilities.’

We must keep nursing education in the unis

Jenni Brackenreg is a Senior Lecturer in Nursing at Charles Sturt University.

‘When I first started teaching in the tertiary sector 20 years ago our workloads were less and tutorial groups ranged from 8 to 15 students.

‘Any profession that has a clinical component requires intense teaching. It is now typical to find tutorials with 25 to 30 students and in many universities doubling of individual full-time lecturer teaching load, reduced full-time staff and increased casuals on contracts has occurred.

‘The amount of administration has gone up considerably. I could spend the whole day on the computer answering emails especially with the number of students now doing distance learning. There are a lot more meetings to attend as universities have become more corporate.

‘Stringent performance-based funding requirements across the sector have impacted on workload. Increasing numbers of academic staff on contracts and associated three-year probation periods for new staff has resulted in reduced job security. In many nursing faculties, casual assignment marking rates have dropped due to changes in the level at which marking work is paid. The erosion of working conditions has been insidious.’

Jenni says the nursing faculties are in new waters with the corporatisation of universities.

‘It is important that registered nurse education is situated in the universities if nursing is to be perceived as a profession and be seen as having professional equity with other health disciplines like medicine, physiotherapy or occupational therapy.

‘Nursing moved to the tertiary sector just before major structural and ideological changes began to occur and over time these have the increasing potential to impact on the quality of graduates. It all goes back to funding not being adequate, especially in relation to a clinical profession like nursing.

‘We need to be concerned about these trends within the university sector because students are missing out. For example, students tend to receive reduced feedback on assignments, the tutorials are too big and the clinical component is under-funded, resulting in a poorer theoretical and clinical experience overall.’