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Combating the shortage of nurses in Australia

26 August 2016

The Australian healthcare sector faces the burden of a nurse shortage, in addition to the increased pressure of an ageing population. Studies have estimated that Australia will have a shortage of 85,000 nurses by 2025, while the average age of nurses is also rising with 25% of registered nurses aged 55 or older.

Improving career opportunities for current and prospective nurse practitioners (NPs) is critical to attraction and retention in the coming years. Much of this can be associated with education and progression in the workplace.

Training opportunities

Increasing the level of staff knowledge can save lives – a 2014 European study found that a 10% increase in bachelor’s degrees for nurses was associated with a 7% lower risk of patient mortality. Further training allows nurses to acquire new skills and transition into higher management roles, which means the level of engagement and effectiveness at work rises significantly.

Conversely, a lack of opportunity for professional development can be factors behind lower retention rates and often counterproductive for employers – the same study found that an increase in a nurse's workload by one patient heightened the chances of a patient dying within 30 days of admission by 7%. Training programs and courses will encourage nurses to stay within the industry, as well as help attract new people into these roles.

Availability of scholarships

Scholarships for NPs have been introduced, including the Nursing and Allied Health Scholarship and Support Scheme to assist nurses in pursuing higher education and advanced practice. Tertiary fees can be a concern for postgraduate students, however, scholarship initiatives like this will promote and encourage further learning, upskilling and professional development within the industry.

Juggling education and work

Online postgraduate degrees like the Master of Healthcare Leadership (MHL) at Southern Cross University are now appearing across Australia, and make it more appealing for nurses to complete further education. These courses are 100% online, offering those who work rotating shifts or live in remote areas increased flexibility, as well as the ability to fast-track learning. Courses through SCU Online are tailored based on needs and provide students with continued guidance and support from the beginning of the course until completion.

The outlook for the sector isn’t all bleak – local nurses are beginning to embrace study, with education levels on the rise. NMBA reports show a growing number of nurses are becoming NPs, with 1204 NPs registered as of March 2015, compared to 843 in 2013. Ensuring this upward trend continues is the next challenge for the industry. Additional training opportunities, scholarship programs and the improved accessibility to postgraduate courses will lead to better outcomes for patients and increase the effectiveness of nursing leaders.

Research for this blog has been compiled from the whitepaper ‘Trends of the future: Growing challenges and new technologies changing the face of nursing’, written by Dr Kirsten Puls.