Draft standards call for nurse-led schools

1 April 2010

More nursing programmes struggling for resources has prompted a call to have only nurses heading nursing schools.

The call was made in the Nursing Council’s draft education standards which went out for consultation last month after considerable input from sector stakeholders. The standards offer no radical change but do include some tightened requirements and priorities to reflect issues raised by the sector such as graduate readiness and programme resourcing.

Initial feedback has been generally positive, apart from some concerns that the draft standards still do not specifically spell out mental health requirements.

Nursing Council chief executive Carolyn Reed said the call for a nurse to head a nursing school reflected the increasing trend for schools to be lead by people “who were very divorced” from nursing programmes.

“I’ve seen programmes that are really struggling to get the resources required to produce high quality graduates.” She said they were often led by non-nurses who didn’t understand the professional requirements, sometimes resulting in large increases in student numbers without resources or clinical placements to match.

Also in response to sector discussion, the standards spelled out requirements for graduates to demonstrate skills in clinical assessment and pharmacology as well as an ability to work in a team and to have novice direction and delegation skills.

Reed said the draft standards were not prescriptive and allowed room for “local flavour” but curriculum content did need to be based on national health priorities and practice trends including: mental health and addictions; chronic disease management; aged-care; evidence-based practice and Māori health.

In the area of clinical practice the council has stipulated that simulation hours cannot be included in the minimum 1100 clinical experience hours and that an extended clinical practice of at least 360 hours (about nine weeks) must be included in the final third year semester of programmes.

Heather Baker, the northern region coordinator for nurse educator group NETS, said NETS was still developing its response but personally she believed the draft standards were a “vast improvement”.

Baker, who has a particular interest in curriculum development and programme standards, said the draft standards were more tightly written and highlighted or focused on some quality management and curriculum content issues raised by the sector. The call for curriculum content to be based on national health priorities also made sense, she said.

Baker was happy with simulation not being allowed inside the minimum 1100 clinical practice hours but said others might debate that call. But she did challenge whether two multi-choice theory exams were the right way to examine a student's "safety to practice".

Gary Lees, chair of the director of nursing group NENZ, said it was unable to comment yet and its regional groups were currently reviewing the document to provide feedback for its submission. Likewise, College of Nurses executive director Jenny Carryer said it was still gathering feedback but did comment that requiring a nurse to head nursing schools was “great”.

Carmel Haggerty, chair of the College of Mental Health Nurses education committee said the standards looked good for the profession as a whole but there appeared to be no changes in the mental health requirements; it was still up to individual providers to decide what focus mental health would receive in programmes. 

“This is not an issue where there is strong mental health educator representation in nursing programmes, however some lone educators struggle with getting the mental health voice heard,” Haggerty said. She said this made the college’s role more important in supporting those educators and maintaining practice standards.

Anne Brinkman, an NZNO education spokeswoman, said the council was to be congratulated on developing the new draft standards and putting them out for consultation.

But she added that there was also a wider issue of ensuring standards were met consistently across the country. Brinkman said having 17 nursing schools made overseeing standards difficult and that issue was one the profession needed “to get hold of”. She also questioned whether auditing processes were “robust enough” to ensure learning outcomes were met and graduates met national and not just local needs.

The draft standards can be read on the nursing council website: www.nursingcouncil.org.nz. The closing date for submissions is 30 April.