The crisis that Australia faces in finding enough nurses to meet its future demand for healthcare is well known, with registered and enrolled nurses retiring from or leaving the profession, or leaving Australia for travel and employment elsewhere. In the aged care sector alone, Australia urgently needs 20,000 nurses.
For many highly educated young men and women, however, nursing in Australia offers a level of security and a standard of leaving – not to mention an enviable pathway of professional development – that is difficult or impossible to attain in their own countries. ECU is setting out to build a bridge linking supply and demand for professional nurses.
"Our School of Nursing and Midwifery has a well-established reputation for academic excellence," says Undergraduate Clinical Coordinator/Lecturer Ms. Gina Mata. "We also have an international perspective, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, so the opportunity to build a relationship with one of the leading universities in the Philippines fits perfectly into our philosophy of sustained collaboration and engagement."
Arellano University in Manila first opened a school of nursing in 1954. Today the university spreads across seven campuses, has more than 18,000 students, and its College of Nursing began offering an international nursing program in 2006 that included a final year of study in the United States. Negotiations between Arellano and ECU began in August 2009 when Associate Professor Jim Cross (Associate Dean International) and Ms Caron Shuttleworth (Coordinator for Clinical and International Programs) visited Arellano to discuss ways in which nursing students interested in coming to study in Australia could access the courses at ECU.
"Students enrolling at Arellano's College of Nursing elect for either the domestic or the international program from the beginning," Ms Mata says. "If they decide they want to study internationally, they must already have high proficiency in English and be capable of satisfying the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for a score of no less than 6.5 in each of reading, writing, speaking and listening for entry, with an IELTS of 7.0 to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.
"The first two students under the agreement, Belinda Grace Dait and Ana Bea Hipolito, had already completed three years of undergraduate study (accredited by ECU) when they arrived in February this year to complete a fourth and final year of ECU's Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This degree normally takes three years, but in the case of students from the Philippines they will study for either three years there and a year here, or two there and two here."
The second group of three students has arrived, and Ms Mata is impressed with their academic and social skills. "I think we are experiencing the cream of their nursing undergraduates," she says. "They are very intelligent, hard working and determined to achieve outstanding results.
"At the end of their fourth year they will be eligible for registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia as an Australian nurse, which is an internationally recognized qualification and virtually guarantees a nurse employment in just about any country in the world.
"This is the first relationship we've had with any institution in the Philippines, but it's already working so well that we have little doubt that a steadily increasing number of students will be coming here to complete their bachelor degrees.
"Some of them may opt to stay in Australia, but others will want to return to the Philippines as highly qualified nurses, where their skills are also in great demand."
The articulation program also has considerable benefits for Australian nursing students, giving them an opportunity to study alongside international students with different cultural and social expectations. There is also an opportunity for Australian undergraduate nursing students to undertake a learning experience in community health in Manila as part of ECU's international community nursing placements program.
"Nursing is truly an international profession, and our young graduates see themselves as international practitioners, able to pursue their careers through multiple countries and successive clinical environments. It's a new mindset that only sees a borderless workplace with friends and colleagues in every part of the world." Ms Mata says.
"The Arellano students are outstanding role models in our undergraduate nursing course."
"To succeed in other cultures, our students need to be aware of cultural differences and traditional treatments that are used to compliment mainstream Western biomedicine around the world, and to develop an understanding of how socio-cultural and religious beliefs influence concepts of health and wellbeing. Mixing and studying with international students is a key element in this enrichment."
As student interest in an international placement has grown, there has been a spin-off benefit for remote and rural nursing in Australia. ECU values practicum experiences in remote or rural WA settings as a great preparation for an international placement. Many students seek clinical experiences in places as far as Derby in preparation for International placements.
"Our students have to complete a total of 800 hours of practicum placement during their course, so there is plenty of time to spend beyond the metropolitan area." Ms Mata says. "Studies have shown that if a student is already familiar with working in a remote or rural location, he or she will be much more likely to work there in the future.
"Arellano students will also get clinical placements at some of the 200 health facilities with which we have agreements, so the course supports the student's professional development while working with Australian health professionals in both university and industry settings."
From Edith Cowan University, Volume Four: December 2011