Nursing education: freeing up nursing to make a difference

August 2016 Vol. 16 (4)

Nursing Review looks back with recently retired SUSAN JACOBS on three decades of nurse education change.

American politics of the 1980s saw Susan Jacobs looking for a “saner” place to raise her family. 
She and her husband Cap started thinking down-under and took their blended family to New Zealand for a holiday when, serendipitously, the then Hawke’s Bay Community College was seeking an associate head of the nursing school. The result was in 1986 Susan began a three-decade career in Hawke’s Bay nursing education that saw her become Dr Jacobs and head of school and ended with her retirement in May as EIT’s executive dean of education, humanities and health science.

Jacobs, a nurse who had practised for 11 years in the US before teaching nursing at Oregon’s Portland Community College, says on first arriving she found New Zealand nursing practice “still incredibly hierarchical, very military in its structure and behaviour”.

“But it is so much more innovative now and, while there are still constraints on some nurses being able to practice to their full capacity, I think nurses have been freed up to make a much greater contribution to health than certainly they did in the 1980s.”

Career highlights

Looking back on her nursing education career, she says there were several things that stood out for her as hugely exciting and great privileges.

One was being nominated to the Nursing Council for just over a year to fill a short-term vacancy in 1999–2000. “But that was an incredibly exciting time because Nursing Council was grappling with the scope of practice for nurse practitioner and the educational criteria for master’s programmes leading to nurse practitioner. I remember that time with great humility but also a mix of pride.”

The second honour was in 2006 to be part of the Nurse Practitioner Employment and Development Working Party, which was given a small budget to see how the sector could create more awareness and opportunities for NP development, which led on to the DHBNZ NP Facilitation Project.

The third special memory was in 2003 when NETS (Nursing Education in the Tertiary Sector) celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first pilot polytechnic nursing programme at the Grand Hall at Parliament. Jacobs, pursuing a PhD at the time of looking at the journey to the NP role, was thrilled to give a keynote address.

That same year EIT’s Master of Nursing – offering an NP pathway – was launched just seven years after its bachelor programme.

Jacobs says in the past decade it has been delightful to see increasing numbers of nurses becoming hooked on postgraduate study and growing their practice. “I think that has just been an enormous change as the pathways for nursing education up until the 1990s … they were a torture.” 

And as Jacobs retires, she says the next great contribution to improving timely and affordable access to health care is underway with the move to registered nurse prescribing for people with long-term and common conditions. 

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