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Open Access Research article

Practice nursing in Australia: A review of education and career pathways

Rhian M Parker1*, Helen M Keleher2, Karen Francis3 and Omar Abdulwadud2

Author Affiliations

1 Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, Australian National University, Acton, ACT, 0200, Australia

2 Department of Health Science, Monash University Peninsula Campus, Frankston, Victoria, 3195, Australia

3 School of Nursing and Midwifery, Monash University, Gippsland Campus Northways Road, Churchill, Victoria 3842, Australia

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BMC Nursing 2009, 8:5  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-8-5

Published: 27 May 2009

Abstract

Background

Nurses in Australia are often not educated in their pre registration years to meet the needs of primary care. Careers in primary care may not be as attractive to nursing graduates as high-tech settings such as intensive or acute care. Yet, it is in primary care that increasingly complex health problems are managed. The Australian government has invested in incentives for general practices to employ practice nurses. However, no policy framework has been developed for practice nursing to support career development and post-registration education and training programs are developed in an ad hoc manner and are not underpinned by core professional competencies. This paper reports on a systematic review undertaken to establish the available evidence on education models and career pathways with a view to enhancing recruitment and retention of practice nurses in primary care in Australia.

Methods

Search terms describing education models, career pathways and policy associated with primary care (practice) nursing were established. These search terms were used to search electronic databases. The search strategy identified 1394 citations of which 408 addressed one or more of the key search terms on policy, education and career pathways. Grey literature from the UK and New Zealand internet sites were sourced and examined. The UK and New Zealand Internet sites were selected because they have well established and advanced developments in education and career pathways for practice nurses.

Two reviewers examined titles, abstracts and studies, based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. Disagreement between the reviewers was resolved by consensus or by a third reviewer.

Results

Significant advances have been made in New Zealand and the UK towards strengthening frameworks for primary care nursing education and career pathways. However, in Australia there is no policy at national level prepare nurses to work in primary care sector and no framework for education or career pathways for nurses working in that sector.

Conclusion

There is a need for national training standards and a process of accreditation for practice nursing in Australia to support the development of a responsive and sustainable nursing workforce in primary care and to provide quality education and career pathways.