Now that academic institutions in the Greater China region have agreed to benchmark their level of nursing education against international standards, the profession can be considered to have taken a big leap forward. This happened in December 2005, when nursing representatives from 22 universities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and the mainland attended the 1st Chinese Consortium for Higher Nursing Education symposium in Hong Kong. The aim was to share ideas and foster collaboration among member schools to ensure nursing programmes keep improving.
"These areas have close economic ties, with about a million Taiwanese and 250,000 Hong Kong residents working in China. The symposium will benefit the different communities in terms of better health care provision," says convenor Professor Samantha Pang, who is acting head of the school of nursing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
She says the Chinese Consortium was formed to put greater emphasis on partnership and participatory leadership, which can create a culture of excellence in training future nurses. Those who took part also made a commitment to enhance research and develop activities addressing special needs and global health concerns.
Significantly, agreement was reached to set benchmarks to compare the development of nursing curricula in member schools. This exercise will focus on issues, such as clinical competence, critical thinking, community health concerns, and transcultural awareness. "The Hong Kong Nursing Council sets the standards for professional nurses," Professor Pang says. "The aim of setting benchmarks for comparison is to measure member schools' success and standards of excellence. This will also help member schools to develop strategies and address the challenge of training future nurses."
The symposium also agreed several other initiatives: to establish an Internet platform with learning resources; to launch teacher and student exchange programmes; and to compile a Chinese-English lexicon to promote semantic equivalence in the use of nursing and health-related terminology. Furthermore, participants explored the feasibility of adopting the mutual recognition of study credits among member schools.
Professor Pang points out that quality education is essential to train nurses capable of handling technological advances and dealing with the problems associated with health crises such as SARS and avian flu.
In addition, nurses in Hong Kong must be prepared to cope with a steadily ageing population and the complex health problems that brings.
Such factors will present major challenges for the local health care sector. The nursing profession must respond by introducing service enhancements for the elderly and upgrading the standard of training, Professor Pang explains.
"Nowadays, nurses do not only work in hospitals," she says. "They also provide care support for patients with chronic illnesses and teach them how to care for themselves at home." Besides that, they may be involved in campaigns to promote better general health in the community and educate the public about preventing such things as strokes and cardiac disease.
Professor Pang believes that currently there is insufficient funding to train the number of nurses Hong Kong will need. She says some cities make good their own shortage by recruiting from developing countries, but this only add to the problem in poorer nations.
She suggests the way forward is to introduce more professional training with master's degrees and specialist nursing courses in order to enhance the social status of the profession. "Nurses should also be given more autonomy in decision making and executing duties," she concludes.