Nurse practitioner role opens doors for senior clinicians
The clinical nursing trajectory often looks like this: complete your degree, work with patients, deliver exceptional care, and move through the ranks. But when it comes to taking on senior leadership roles, there’s traditionally been a shortage of options for nurses who want to remain by the bedside – until now.
A new Master of Nurse Practitioner at UTS is set to deliver a clear-cut pathway into senior clinical nursing careers. As the first standalone degree in NSW, the master’s will round out the university’s suite of nursing education courses – and put UTS at the forefront of advanced nursing education.
“Before the nurse practitioner role came about, the only way for a nurse to advance professionally was to go into administration and management,” says Rochelle Firth, the course coordinator for the UTS master’s degree.
“This course actually allows experts to stay clinically focused and still have a clinical career pathway. It expands your capabilities and your toolkits to be able to look after patients more thoroughly.”
The nurse practitioner role was launched in Australia in the early 2000s, making nurse practitioners the most senior clinical nurses in the Australian nursing workforce. Unlike other advanced practice nurses, nurse practitioners can prescribe medications, order diagnostic tests and interpret the results, and initiate referrals to relevant health care providers.
Perhaps most importantly, nurse practitioners identify and respond to existing service gaps in a variety of health care settings – they can work in rural and remote, community or hospital environments. Their responsibilities complement, rather than replace, those of other health professionals, giving nurse practitioners a unique opportunity to deliver new health programs and services that address otherwise unmet need.
“The nurse practitioner role provides a pathway for clinicians to deliver care where it is required, and to combine nursing and medical frameworks to provide comprehensive care,” Firth says.
“The provision of additional services, rather than substitution of existing services, can improve access to care and reduce time to treatment for patients.”
The UTS course is a three-year, part-time master’s degree. Students must be currently employed in an advanced practice nursing role. Course content is a mix of face-to-face and online learning, punctuated by guest lectures from leading health care clinicians, and extensive hands-on workshops in the faculty’s simulation labs.
“Our goal is for graduates to be practice-ready, so we’ll be focused on developing them as clinicians, not just from a content theory base but also in terms of their communication, leadership and political skills,” Firth says.
Beyond the classroom, students will complete 350 hours of integrated professional practice in addition to their existing employment, giving them the chance to consolidate their learning in a series of carefully selected clinical environments.
Firth, one of the first two nurse practitioners in neurosurgery in Australia, has had first-hand experience of the opportunities and rewards that a nurse practitioner career can offer.
A nurse practitioner since 2003, Firth has been instrumental in developing the role in Australia – in addition to her extensive clinical achievements, she was a founding member of the Australian Nurse Practitioner Association, now the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners, where she holds a foundation fellowship.
“The nurse practitioner works much more autonomously than any other senior clinicians, so they have autonomy over their practice and over their service delivery,” she says.
“It’s very professionally rewarding to be able to provide more comprehensive care to patients, and so to know the impact that you’re having on patient care and patient outcomes is the reward in itself.”
The first intake for the UTS Master of Nurse Practitioner will be in Autumn 2018.