It has not been an easy time for nurses in Ireland. With many of them forced to emigrate in order to secure get full-time employment, and those at home facing the imminent threat and ongoing discussion over cutbacks, it would be forgivable for there to be an air of hesitancy over entering the profession. However, for those currently employed as nurses, or those who have managed to acquire the required work experience, a postgraduate course can still exert a positive affect on career prospects.
Nurses can work in either the public or private healthcare sectors, but postgraduate education can also open doors in other arenas such as in childcare, healthcare sales and pharmaceuticals, to name but a few. In the current climate it is helpful to have relevant yet diverse skills and accreditation in areas such as paediatric nursing, midwifery and pubic health nursing. This can greatly add to a candidate’s employability and earning potential. An Bord Altranais, the regulatory body for nursing, continually recognises the absolute necessity of further education for advancing in the profession. The body’s primary duty is to promote high standards of professional education and any opportunities to develop, extend and strengthen the position of professional education.
Most postgraduate options require that the candidate be a registered nurse and have requisite experience. One such specialist programme is the Higher Diploma in Children's Nursing, which is a one-year full-time course for which any nurse registered in one of the four divisions RNID (Intellectual Disability), RPN (Psychiatric), RGN (General) or RM (Midwifery) may apply. Available from Trinity College and DCU, it provides qualified nurses with the essential skills to enable them to meet the changing healthcare needs of children and families. Upon successful completion of the course it is possible to register as a Children’s Nurse (RCN).
Midwifery is an extremely popular option for registered nurses looking to expand upon their skill set. Providers of the Higher Diploma in Midwifery include Trinity College, NUI Galway, UL, UCC and UCD. The programme offers a year-long full-time graduate diploma course that is aimed at providing registered nurses and midwives with the opportunity to develop their existing professional education, along with their evidence-based practise/research abilities, knowledge, skills, and attitudes in preparation for professional role enhancement within nursing/midwifery. Applicants should possess a primary degree and be on the appropriate register maintained by An Bord Altranais.
One of the growing areas of specialisation is Oncology (cancer care) nursing, which at NUIG is taught through a ‘blended learning approach’, whereby students first access lectures, reading material, activities and discussion online and then come to the university for two-day workshops on each module studied during the programme. The course can be taken over one year full time, or as a part time option over the course of two years.
Course Director Dr Maura Dowling describes cancer care as an area that has undergone ‘huge changes...and nurses are needed to implement these changes. Oncology nurses have to be scientifically minded to deal with the areas of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but they also need to be excellent communicators in order to treat cancer patients. The students who do best are those who relate theory to practice. Some of our students wouldn't have a degree and would have entered the programme through completing a qualifier essay. But these students tend to have had many years of experience in cancer wards. They've seen it all, and we really value that’.
In most cases it is possible to progress to a Masters (MSc) once the higher/graduate diploma has been completed. The MSc prepares students for more advanced roles in leadership, as well as serving to improve their research skills by undertaking a dissertation in their chosen area of specialisation. Trinity College’s MSc in Gerontological Nursing, for example, seeks to answer the needs of an ageing society where proper care of the elderly must be prioritised. This two-year course (part time) is open to registered nurses who have attained both a degree and possess relevant professional experience. Students will receive instruction in the concepts and practice behind gerontological nursing and will develop an awareness of the ageing process. They will also study the ethics and laws that govern healthcare. In the second year, they will complete a dissertation of between 20,000 and 25,000 words in length.
But, what are the benefits of pursuing an area of specialisation over a general nursing role? Generally speaking, it allows students to develop skills that are not taught in undergraduate programmes, and thus lead to an increased chance to finding work in a specialised field. Indeed, specialised skills, allied with an entrepreneurial spirit, can often lead to the creation of niche roles for patient needs that may yet have to be met.
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