In view of the ongoing shortage of qualified nursing staff in Hong Kong, local hospitals and educational institutes have stepped up their efforts to resolve the problem. In particular, the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK), which has substantial experience in nursing education and an extensive network of contacts with public and private medical facilities, is introducing two Bachelor of Nursing honours programmes to enhance the standard of professional health-care services.
According to Linda Lee Yin-king, assistant professor, nursing, at OUHK's School of Science and Technology, the two qualifications – in general health care and mental health care – have been put together in partnership with Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital and the Psychiatric Nurse Education Centre of the Institute of Mental Health, Castle Peak Hospital, respectively.
"The programmes are groundbreaking as they are the first collaboration between a university and hospitals to provide nursing education at tertiary level," Ms Lee says. "It is also a response to the lack of professional psychiatric training in Hong Kong, since local universities only provide degree programmes in general health care."
With experienced teaching staff and extensive facilities available through these partnerships, OUHK has placed equal emphasis on practice and theory in designing the curriculum. All students will take core disciplines such as basic health care, consultation and communication skills, while special subjects in adult and children's health care or mental health will be required depending on the course taken. Special workshops on SARS prevention will also be part of the curriculum.
First-year students will receive practical on-the-job training in elderly homes, sanatoriums and rehabilitation centres, and will then get further coaching from senior nurses in local medical institutes. Each student will be equipped with a PDA, allowing them to retrieve reference materials and keep track of their own schedule and performance.
Although 60 to 80 places are initially on offer, OUHK has received a very enthusiastic response from applicants and is optimistic about the future success of the two programmes. "There is a serious shortage of nursing staff in Hong Kong and we hope to make a contribution to the profession by training more talent," Ms Lee says. "Our students will learn about different facets of health care. As the role of nursing staff is increasingly diverse and challenging, it is essential for them to have a real understanding of the profession by working with people with different needs."
This emphasis on broader expertise reflects the move towards a higher level of professionalism in health care services in Hong Kong. "By upgrading nursing education to tertiary level, our aim is to produce a new generation of qualified staff with comprehensive knowledge and skills," Ms Lee explains. "Our ultimate goal is to help nursing staff achieve a higher degree of professional autonomy and to deal with the various challenges in the sector."