Gaining a nursing master’s before you master nursing?

December 2015 Vol 15 (6)

Is New Zealand ready for new graduate nurses with master’s degrees? Fiona Cassie reports on the advent of graduate-entry nursing programmes.


MastersNext year Christchurch will be home to two graduate-entry programmes squeezing nursing training into an intense two years.

Not only do the courses concentrate the usual three-year nursing curriculum into two years, but the new nurses also emerge with master’s degrees (they will be paid the same, however, as their fellow new graduate nurses with bachelor’s degrees).

The first course, a joint programme by the University of Canterbury and CPIT, was launched in 2014 as a 2.5-year programme but is now awaiting formal approval* so its latest students can emerge with both a Bachelor of Nursing (BN) and a Master of Health Sciences Professional Practice (MHealScProfPr) in just two years.

Also waiting final approval from the same university body* and set to launch in the New Year – is the University of Otago, Christchurch, programme, which will be the country’s first pre-registration master’s degree in nursing, the Master of Nursing Science (MNSc).

Both programmes require entrants to have an undergraduate degree with a B average or better but it doesn’t have to be a health science degree as long as students can meet the bioscience knowledge requirements.


Mastering the new pathway

The Otago programme has been made possible by the Nursing Council consulting on and amending its education standards to allow
New Zealand to follow Australia, the United Kingdom, USA, Canada and Hong Kong in offering this alternative master’s qualification pathway to nurse registration. The new two-year pathways still have to offer the same minimum 1,100 clinical experience hours as required under the conventional three-year Bachelor of Nursing.

The Nursing Council said in its consultation document last year that internationally, pre-registration master’s degrees in nursing were known to appeal to graduates from health and other disciplines seeking to become registered nurses. But it also noted there was potential to cause confusion amongst the public, nurses, and the wider healthcare workforce if the titles of any pre-entry master’s programmes in nursing were not clearly differentiated from the advanced practice master’s degrees held by nurse practitioners (NPs).**

Submissions received by the Nursing Council showed nurses, district health boards and nursing organisations were divided, with some for, a number against and many wanting more detail about the implications of introducing a master’s degree entry to nursing.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation submission supported the new master’s pathway as a “positive step” towards addressing anticipated nursing workforce shortages. “This initiative is one way in which access to a nursing career can be enhanced,” said NZNO.

A pre-registration master’s degree was not supported by the College of Nurses Aotearoa, which said it backed the three-year undergraduate BN programme as the benchmark for entry to nursing and believed a pre-entry master’s was “a recipe for confusion” and “the energy could be better directed to refining and improving the status quo”. Several submitters expressed concern about condensing the nursing curriculum into two years and others reiterated concerns about confusion and devaluing or diluting the clinical master’s degree held by advanced practice nurses like NPs and clinical nurse specialists.

Mary Gordon, executive director of nursing for Canterbury District Health Board, is supportive of the two graduate-entry programmes, saying they will both increase the supply of nurses and also bring diversity into the profession. She says Canterbury DHB is committed to offering clinical placements to both programmes and had already received very positive feedback on the Canterbury/CPIT students. “The feedback from clinical placement areas is that the students are great, mature; their critical thinking and judgment is very evident.”

Leanne Samuel, director of nursing for the Southern DHB, is also supportive of graduate-entry programmes, saying nurses graduating with master’s-level qualifications will enrich the calibre of the nursing workforce and may bring with them “extremely useful skill sets” from their earlier degree, be it in law or IT. She added that employers would always appoint the best applicant to the role regardless of which programme they come from.


Christchurch-based programmes

Dr Alison Dixon, coordinator for the joint Canterbury/CPIT programme, recently told the Australasian Nurse Educators Conference that the programme was prompted by CPIT nurse leader Cathy Andrew wanting to offer a more challenging nursing programme for graduate students enrolling in its BN programme.

The programme had 15 students in its first intake, 16 in its second and was looking to have more than 20 enrolments in 2016, including a PhD graduate, dentist, and community pharmacist. Dixon said the two-year BN/MHSc pathway was appealing to a range of graduates, including research-focused recent graduates, men and middle-aged students who had always wanted to go nursing

Dr Philippa Seaton, director of the University of Otago’s Christchurch-based Centre for Postgraduate Nursing Studies, said its decision to offer a pre-registration master’s programme was prompted to help meet projected future nursing workforce needs. It also looked overseas where similar programmes had been offered for some time, including across the Tasman, and research indicating positive contributions by graduate-entry master’s students to the nursing profession.

Otago was looking to offer 20 places in its first full-time intake next February and Seaton said she was optimistic it would fill them. Otago had had a positive response from district health boards, she said,  and other providers across the South Island ready to offer clinical placements for the students.

Seaton said the nursing curriculum was not abbreviated in a pre-registration masters programme but just intensified and offered over two extended academic years stretching from February to December. She said people concerned a pre-entry master’s degree would lead to confusion with an NP’s qualifications needed to realise the two master’s degrees were quite different qualifications.

Seaton said Otago had deliberately chosen the name Master of Nursing Science to differentiate it from its current postgraduate, post-registration Master of Health Sciences  (MHSc) degrees. “So people could look at it [the new degree title] and have a bit more familiarity with it; [they could] say ‘MNSc, yes we know that was an entry-to-practice qualification, not a “I’m 10 years down the track” qualification’.”

She said its future MNSc graduates would bring a deeper, more critical understanding and thinking, plus master’s-acquired research skills, to their practice as newly graduated nurses.


*Both programmes have Nursing Council approval but are now awaiting formal ratification of their master’s degrees from the national universities body CUAP (Committee on University Academic Programmes), which is meeting in early December.

**Currently the abbreviations for the advanced practice nursing master’s degrees on offer around the country include MN (Massey, Wintec & EIT), MNS (Victoria) and MNurs (University of Auckland) MHPrac (AUT) and MHSc  (AUT & University of Otago).


Jill Clendon 02

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