In praise of New Zealand nursing

29 August 2014

JO ANN WALTON defends New Zealand nursing after being alarmed by a visitor’s comments. The Victoria University nursing professor and Nursing Council member gives her own appraisal of kiwi nursing.

Recently, I asked an overseas visitor what she thought might be the differences between nurses (and nursing) in her country and ours. It was not a fair question, really, because to my knowledge, current, first-hand information about New Zealand nursing was not available to her.

I wish I had never asked. Why? Because the answer I heard shocked, saddened, and alarmed me. I won’t report what was said, but you can tell already that my friend’s words were not those I expected. I have spent several days thinking about the impressions that were relayed to me. So now, here’s what I think…

My career experience as an academic and my time as a member of Nursing Council has enabled me to see and hear about nursing practice in many parts of the world. I believe New Zealand nurses stand amongst the best. We have an international reputation as hard working, capable, and broad-minded employees, with a great work ethic and a can-do attitude. This is a reputation we well deserve. Our education standards are high, our academics are dedicated and skilful, and our regulatory system is robust and internationally benchmarked.

Family experiences with health events over the past year have given me nothing but respect for New Zealand nurses. In our public health system, in GP surgeries, and in hospice, we have been met with kindness, honesty, respect, and helpfulness by intelligent nurses from a range of countries and cultural backgrounds.

Good humour is also in evidence, in spite of obviously busy workloads. I have been struck by the ability of the nurses we have met to deal with patient and family members as a unit, and by the personalised care we have received. It makes me proud to be a nurse too.

In my academic role, I have just returned to teaching after a year on research and study leave. Walking back into a classroom after this break yet again confirms my belief in New Zealand nursing. I see nurses working long hours to build their careers, develop their skills, and knowledge and improve the health services in which they work.

Around us, nurses are engaged in policy development, research projects, quality improvement, and clinical practice development. Leaders are everywhere, working quietly and humbly at what they believe in, as is the New Zealand way.

As a member of Nursing Council, I am privileged to help steer the profession into new territory on a number of fronts. The nurses and their support team at Nursing Council handle a huge workload with grace, thoughtfulness, and rigour. They deal kindly (and sometimes firmly) with nurses in trouble, with overseas applicants, with new

graduates, and indeed, with all of us, while ensuring that the standards of the discipline are upheld and the public is safe in nursing hands.

In our professional organisations, nurses are called on to offer critique, advice, counsel, and wisdom in maintaining professional standards, and shaping health policy. Am I right to be proud? I believe I am. We should all be.