According to the Australian Government’s (2012) Health Workforce 2025 report, a significant shortage of nurses in Australia has been predicted. The shortage of doctors projected was much smaller, at only 2700. In fact the report projected a shortfall of 109,000 nurses by 2025. One of the key findings was that Australia’s healthcare sector would “…continue to remain highly dependent on migration of international health professionals”.
Training and educating more nurses in Australia
What can be done to address the shortage of nurses in Australia? The obvious solution is of course to train and educate more new nurses, so there are opportunities for both local and overseas students to enrol in programs leading to AHPRA registration, such as Diploma of Nursing courses and bachelors’ degrees. However, huge influxes of new nurses without there being sufficient experienced nurses to take on important mentoring roles could reduce quality of care. So what is being done to help keep maintain a significant proportion of experienced, expert nurses in the workforce?
Overcoming the experience gap
Currently, programs such as the Initial Registration of Overseas Nurses (IRON) program, also known as overseas nurse bridging programs or Entry to Practice for Overseas Qualified Registered Nurses (EPIQ-RN) programs, offer overseas qualified nurse the opportunity to have their qualifications recognised in Australia and obtain registration with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
There are also programs that help people who have previously been registered nurses return to practice, known as Registered Nurse Re-Entry to Practice (RNRP) programs. These programs refresh the nurses’ knowledge of theory and assess their nursing skills in a clinical setting to ensure their success and the safety of their patients. There are also refresher programs to help nurses who are between jobs maintain their clinical and theoretical currency and stay registered.
Why does all this matter?
It matters because nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. They are the ones who provide the constant care of patients, monitor and pick up on changes in their condition, save lives and provide comfort and care. Their work is highly skilled, both at a degree qualified Registered Nurse level and at a Diploma qualified Enrolled Nurse level. As a popular Australian bumper sticker reads, “Nurses: You can’t live without them”.