What is the future of nursing education as more school-leavers attend university? Julia Hinde reports
Nursing will inevitably become a graduate-only profession, say nurse educators.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, told a London conference that the Project 2000 diploma, which brought the education of all nurses into higher education, was developed to meet health-care needs in the year 2000. But debate now needed to move forward.
She said: "Nursing has changed more in the past 50 years than ever before. Now it's time to open up discussions to how we educate nurses for the year 2001 and beyond."
She told the conference that, due to poor education planning in the past, nursing was now suffering serious staff shortages when demographic changes were placing new demands on the workforce.
"While young people are interested in a career in healthcare, it seems in many cases they are particularly attracted to those that require education at degree level," Ms Hancock said.
"This is one of the reasons that today the question of whether nurses should be prepared to graduate level is very much a matter for debate."
More than half of Project 2000 diploma nurses aspired to a degree, and were forced to follow a hard route either studying part time once they had their diploma and registration or full time for a further year, often at their own expense.
She added that nurses were increasingly working at graduate level and that it was necessary to make nursing a graduate profession for parity with other health professions and to boost the status of nursing within higher education.
"All the evidence shows that when you raise the entry gate for nursing, popularity increases," Ms Hancock said.
Tony Butterworth, chairman of the Council of Deans of faculties of nursing, said he thought nursing would inevitably become a graduate profession as nurses were increasingly asked to fill more intellectually demanding roles.
But Jennifer Boore, professor of nursing at the University of Ulster, said: "A move to a graduate profession is almost certain to happen as a larger proportion of the population go to university. Nursing cannot afford to lose its share of the school-leaver population. But there are potential dangers," she said.
She fears there may be a push to deliver degrees in three years and a lack of recognition of the difference between three- and four-year degrees.