Report on the Audit of Health Workforce in Rural and Regional Australia

4.2 Nursing workforce

Page last updated: April 2008

Recruitment and retention

Some issues that make recruiting and retaining nurses difficult include:
  • long hours with no one to relieve
  • lack of locums and high levels of stress and tensions in remote health services when staff wish to undertake professional development
  • professional isolation and lack of systemic support
  • issues regarding quality of care when stressed and tired and
  • lack of recognition of remote area nurse and nurse practitioner credentials by doctors and health systems.

Education and training

  • Twenty per cent of students drop out of university after their first year, while in some courses less than half return for their second year.
  • There are considerable barriers and problems encountered when moving from the VET sector to the tertiary sector.
  • There is considerable variability of nursing re-entry requirements, procedures and courses around the country as each state and territory regulatory body has different requirements.
  • Undergraduate nursing courses contain insufficient clinical experience for students so they are work-ready and able to cope with clinical practice.
  • Most clinical experience is gathered during the university semester which means that the demand for clinical training environments is excessive at certain months of the year and this put additional strain on the staff in hospitals.
  • Generalist staff do not have the required skills in mental health to take on the roles of specialist staff in mental health emergencies in rural and remote locations.
  • Nurses are not supported in their costs of accommodation to work in rural and remote areas.
  • No rent assistance is provided for metropolitan nurses on clinical placements in rural areas.
  • There are not enough senior clinical nurse educators in public hospitals to train and supervise in the workplace.

Other issues

  • Nursing remains predominantly a female occupation with only 8% of nurses male.
  • Many nurses are in their late 40s and will be retiring in the next five years.
  • Immigration is a key source of Australian nurses and the requirements of registration boards and immigration authorities have a major impact on the flow, distribution and quality of overseas trained nurses coming to Australia to work.
  • Nurses do not have access to the same incentives as GPs to work in rural and remote areas.
  • A nationally consistent system of registration and accreditation of university level education for nursing and midwifery is necessary to facilitate workforce mobility, improve safety and quality and reduce red tape.