Undergraduate training in universities to become a registered nurse takes up to four years. The number of university undergraduate nurses completing courses has increased considerably in recent years, with the number of domestic registered nurses increasing by around one-fifth from 2001 to 2006 (Table 3.2.5). This has resulted in a 9.8% increase in the number of registered nurses from 2001 to 2005. These numbers will increase further with the government decision to provide an additional 1,500 nurse undergraduate places over five years to 2012. Training of enrolled nurses is undertaken in the Vocational Education and Training sector and takes from one to two years.

Table 3.2.5: Registered nurse course completions, 2001-2006







Domestic Students

Males 603624582671667708

Overseas Students


All Students


Source: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

It is estimated that rural university undergraduate nursing enrolments account for approximately 30% of all nursing enrolments. It is difficult to differentiate the data according to rural or urban split due to the complexities of the university campus networks. Metropolitan and rural campuses often both offer undergraduate nursing courses, with reporting being based on the total university data.

Nurses take up to an additional four years to specialise in a range of clinical areas. The contribution of enrolled nurses versus more highly trained registered nurses varies significantly across jurisdictions. Recent initiatives, such as an increased focus on mental health and the work of mental health nurses, and increasing demands for aged care services indicate that a greater number of nurses specialising in these clinical areas are needed. Access to midwives in all areas of Australia is problematic. Nurse practitioners are emerging in the workforce, but take up to 13 years to complete their qualifications.

Ageing of the nursing workforce itself is a major issue, as it is for the health workforce as a whole, with over one-third of nurses over 50 years of age. Difficulties in attracting and retaining nurses in the workforce are reported, with almost ten per cent of registered nurses not looking for work in nursing.

For the labour market as a whole the ageing population will be a major influence on future workforce supply. Labour participation falls significantly after the age of 55 - many in this age group reduce their hours or move out of the labour force altogether.

(Productivity Commission report, Australia's Health Workforce)

The health and community services industry workforce is required to grow faster than in any other Australian industry to 2012. The average age of the workforce is nine years greater than the all industry average and it is expected that a large cohort of degree qualified registered nurses will leave the industry over the next five years (Australian Jobs 2007, Department of Employment and Workforce Relations 2007). Increased numbers of trained enrolled nurses and registered nurses will be required to meet workforce growth requirements.

(Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council submission)