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By Paul O'Farrell
Final-year nursing students at UQ are fast-tracking their studies, so that they are ready to answer the call if the health crisis worsens.
The spread of COVID-19 has forced much of Australia's workforce into a period of stagnation, with most people working from home, and many, sadly, out of work.
But for UQ student Raenie Zwierlein, this pandemic has put her on the fast-track to her future.
Zwierlein, who is currently studying the final year of her two-year Master of Nursing degree at UQ, is taking advantage of a rare opportunity that has arisen from the current health crisis.
Under an agreement between UQ and the Metro South Hospital and Health Service (MSHHS), nursing students have been invited to start their final clinical placements early, so they will be qualified to join the workforce sooner.
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For Zwierlein, the opportunity to complete her qualification early was too good to refuse.
“I’m obviously very sad about the spread of COVID-19 and worried about its impacts, both here and around the world,” she said.
UQ Master of Nursing student Raenie Zwierlein before her placement at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.
“But on a personal level, I’m really glad I have this chance to get my qualification earlier, so I’ll be in a position to help out sooner.
“If there is a second wave of COVID-19 infection, it appears that we will be the reinforcements providing support on the wards, while freeing up nurses with more experience to assist with emergency triage, intubation and the support of critical patients.”
Fast-tracking the degree involves bringing forward the final placement of the course from August to May 2020. This change in approach means that the final-year Master of Nursing students will be able to graduate and become registered nurses by August, instead of waiting until December 2020.
Most of Zwierlein’s peers are also taking up the fast-track option, with about 90 per cent of the master's students starting their final 400-hour clinical placement block at MSHHS’s Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital during May.
“Many of my close group of friends are taking up the opportunity to do the accelerated version of the course, and we’re excited about getting it done quickly,” Zwierlein said.
“We all did our placements at the PA in first year, so it’s very familiar to us.
“I think we all viewed it in a similar way. For us, it’s an opportunity to be busy and productive during the shutdown period. And it also means we’ll be registered as nurses faster, so we may be in a position to really help out in hospitals when it’s most needed.”
Head of UQ’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work Professor Tracy Humphrey said the partnership agreement with MSHHS was designed to quickly add reinforcements to the nursing workforce in case hospitals were suddenly overwhelmed.
“In March, as Australian COVID-19 cases started growing exponentially, it really looked like the pandemic was going to create increased demand for nursing care and a requirement to quickly build greater capacity in our hospitals,” Professor Humphrey said.
“The partnership with MSHHS is about ensuring fully qualified and educated staff are able to increase the nursing workforce as swiftly and safely as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
The MSHHS has been a long-term partner of UQ’s student nursing education program, and Professor Humphrey said she was confident the students could hit the ground running whenever they were required to enter the workforce.
“The student nurses in our Master of Nursing Studies program receive the best education at UQ,” she said.
“The teaching staff all have PhDs and are recognised experts in the nurse education and practice field. Our teaching facilities, where students learn and practice their nursing skills, are also excellent and simulate the real world, to ensure the students are confident practitioners.”
Zwierlein said the Master of Nursing degree had given her the skills needed to begin her nursing career with confidence
“Our program is built around problem-based and self-directed learning. So, rather than having content fed to us, we're taught how to source information ourselves,” she said.
“Nursing is such a huge field, so the idea is that we are equipped to adapt to different and evolving areas of practice.
“This large block of final placement at the PA means that we really have a chance to stand on our own two feet with the safety net of a preceptor, which for me really helps with gaining confidence in my ability to practice in the future as a registered nurse.”
Visit the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work website to learn more about how UQ is preparing students for the workforce.
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