ED's Letter: CNS numbers surge, NP growth slower

August 2015 Vol 15 (4)

If I’ve learned anything from reporting on nursing over the years, it’s that many nurses are multitaskers extraordinaire. They juggle demanding workloads: raising kids and completing postgraduate study; and emerge with new skills to enhance their nursing practice and the letters PGDip, MN or even PhD after their names.

Our health system is all the better for these nurses managing to apparently jam 25 hours into a 24-hour day (see cover pic caption below for a shining example).

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman recently released statistics showing that the number of clinical nurse specialists in the 20 district health boards has risen from 744 in 2007 to 1449 in 2015. A few weeks earlier he announced government funding for a dedicated NP training programme in 2016 (see p.29) to support an extra 20 nurse practitioner candidates and help boost the about 145 NPs actively practising in 2015 (compared with 39 NPs in 2007).

All of this begs the question: why has the number of clinical nurse specialists (CNS) jumped by 700 between 2007 and 2015 but NP numbers have only increased by around 100?

It’s not as if there’s a lack of nurses tackling the postgraduate study required. Figures supplied to Professor Jenny Carryer, a member of the government’s nursing workforce governance group, indicate that there are now close to 1000 nurses with clinical master’s degrees, which is the prerequisite qualification for becoming an NP.

Of course, not all clinical master’s graduates were on the NP career path but, anecdotally, quite a number were.

So what has been the sticking point? Some DHBs preferring CNS over NPs? Seeking NP registration too tough a hurdle? Or are some just biding their time?

Carryer thinks a number have just “drifted away” from the notion of becoming an NP after becoming discouraged. “And yet many of them are absolutely expert, senior clinicians who we could do well to use.”

She says she has been approached by a number of master’s graduates, whose prescribing practicum is now out of date, inquiring about the new NP training programme as a chance to reboot their NP dreams.

It will be interesting to see whether a clearer pathway for NPs will see more of those 1449 CNS transitioning to become NPs in years to come.

Fiona Cassie

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