Hong Kong is experiencing an urgent demand for registered nurses and there are concerns that the problem will escalate.
"This is due to Hong Kong's ageing population, as well as an increase in chronic illness and complex pathological changes," says Diana Lee, chair professor of nursing and director, the Nethersole School of Nursing.
Professor Lee, who is also the assistant dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), notes that Hong Kong has one nurse for every 10 patients, compared with the international standard nurse-patient ratio of one to five.
"Nurses now take on more community nursing services, such as support for the elderly and discharged patients, as well as hospice services. Considering our strained staffing numbers, we need an immediate solution to ensure that we have enough nursing professionals to keep our healthcare system sound," she adds.
To address this issue, the CUHK nursing school is now offering a new master of nursing science (pre-registration) programme.
The groundbreaking programme, which will commence in August, will admit students with non-healthcare related bachelor's degrees. It aims to provide students with the opportunity to develop the critical thinking, problem solving and other skills necessary for nursing roles in different practice settings, including acute care and rehabilitation hospitals and various community settings.
"Our aim is to train about an additional 50 registered nurses to supplement the 600 graduates from Hong Kong's four universities each year," Professor Lee notes. "The programme will cover all theoretical and practical components needed for registration with the Nursing Council of Hong Kong."
She explains that the programme design and structure were inspired by the US nursing education system. "Statistics show that students with a first degree and a few years of work experience are usually more committed to nursing care. They also tend to be well versed to communicate with patients," Professor Lee explains, adding that such mature students usually have a stronger readiness to embark on a nursing career. "We aim to make a difference to the healthcare system here," she adds.
Prospective students enrolled for the programme hailed from a range of backgrounds, varying from psychology and biology to accounting and arts. "They usually have life experience and would like to make a change," Professor Lee says. "These students are hoping to contribute to society by pursuing a career in the stable profession of nursing."
In the first year of study, students will focus on nursing fundamentals and pharmacology. The second and third years will concentrate more on chronic illnesses, specialty areas and preventive care.
The students will also complete blocks of clinical nursing practice throughout the three-year programme, so that they can apply their nursing knowledge and skills in different healthcare settings such as hospitals, community centres, aged-care homes, rehabilitation centres and specialty wards such as paediatrics, midwifery and surgical nursing.
"We're hoping that these committed individuals graduating from the new master's programme will serve the community for a few years as registered nurses, and then return to enrol in our existing master of nursing programme in order to develop further into other specialist nursing roles," Professor Lee points out.
The university also offers a two-year part-time master's degree programme for registered nurses to specialise in areas such as gerontology, critical care, cardiac care, oncology and palliative and mental health.
"Nursing is moving towards specialisation and our master's degree programme aims to prepare registered nurses with a few years of practical experience for advanced clinical roles in specific areas," she says.
In addition, a new doctorate programme in nursing will be offered this September, aiming at grooming advanced nursing practitioners for leadership roles in specialised disciplines.
This will also allow experienced nurses to evaluate and investigate the provision of care in the exiting nursing care system. Students will be required to complete a doctoral thesis based on empirical research in the four years of part-time study and will get the opportunity to undergo a clinical practicum outside Hong Kong.