Nurses should adopt new roles and drive reform in Australia’s health system, a Monash academic recently told a crowd of about 100 guests at the annual Vivian Bullwinkel lecture at the Nurses Memorial Centre in November.
To honour the life of this iconic nurse, the Vivian Bullwinkel lecture is delivered each year by a prestigious nurse. The event is co- hosted by Monash University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, La Trobe University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and the Royal College of Nursing, Australia.
This year’s lecturer, Head of the Department of Health Science Professor Helen Keleher, said that a major Government review of Australia’s health system had led to widespread agreement on the potential for nurses to expand their traditional services.
Expanded services included “greater roles in general practice and community-based services, prevention and health promotion, support for ageing people to remain in their homes, integration and coordination of care for people with chronic conditions”.
Professor Keleher pointed to the importance of primary health care – including health promotion, illness prevention, treatment and care of the sick in the community, community development, advocacy and rehabilitation services – in an equal and just society.
She said traditionally primary health nurses in Australia have been marginalised by a dominant culture of hospital nursing. “Nurses who sought careers in ... primary health nursing were regarded as entering a different culture from ‘real nursing’.”
Recently, educating nurses for the acute care sector had been driven by workforce shortages and increased demands on hospitals from patient acuity.
However, not all nurses were attracted to hospital nursing and many left the profession.
“While acute and emergency care will still be integral, strengthening prevention and promoting wellness is pivotal,” Professor Keleher said.
The move away from training nurses in hospitals to universities had helped but Professor Keleher argued the profession should do more to “ensure all students are introduced to good quality learning about primary health care and give them the opportunity to learn about alternative careers to acute care”.
She urged the nursing profession to undertake the necessary research and adopt the appropriate policies to embrace primary health care and lead the changes required by the national health care reform agenda.