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New UC course makes a nursing qualification more accessible

12 June 2024

Associate Professor Cathy Andrew from UC’s Faculty of Health discusses a new programme that aims to help address health workforce issues.


Photo caption: UC Faculty of Health Executive Dean Cathy Andrew works with health providers to provide clinical placements for Master of Health Sciences (Nursing) students, including current student Leianne Roblete (right).

Aotearoa New Zealand has faced a severe shortage of nurses in hospitals and community providers around the country and there has been a reliance on internationally qualified nurses to fill vacancies for many years.

Clearly there’s a need to train more nurses locally to support our health services. With this in mind, Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) has introduced a new Master of Health Sciences (Nursing), to provide a more flexible and accessible nursing qualification.

The master’s, which is approved by the Nursing Council and had its first intake at the start of this year, give people with an undergraduate health-related degree the opportunity to apply to become a registered nurse after two years of full-time study, instead of the usual three-year nursing degree. It’s already proving popular, with 74 students enrolled in 2024 when the University was expecting 50.

UC is offering this post-graduate course through Tuihono | UC Online, giving flexibility about when and where students learn, although some in-person attendance is required. The goal is to make the programme rurally and regionally accessible for people who cannot relocate, while also catering to those who live locally. If we want to grow and diversify our health workforce, we need to find ways for more people to access our programmes.

I studied through distance learning myself when I lived in Nelson in the 1990s and I want that same opportunity for others. 

We know from Ministry of Education research that when students relocate from the regions to study, they are unlikely to return to work in their hometown. But if they can remain at home while studying, we believe they’ll be more likely to stay and work locally after they graduate, boosting the workforce in difficult to staff regions.  

This year, our Master of Health Sciences (Nursing) students include recent graduates and people making midlife career changes. Some have decided to move into nursing after having a personal experience within the health sector, such as a sick family member, and deciding they want to make a difference. 

Others may have been working in health but in an administrative role rather than a clinical one, or they hold an international nursing or health qualification that isn’t recognised in New Zealand. 

At UC we understand many families can’t afford to cover the costs involved in relocating to study and we want to make sure there are models of course delivery that accommodate this reality.

For me, this is an equity issue; why should tertiary education only be available to people who live in main centres where there’s a university or polytechnic? 

This new master’s course allows mid-life career changers to upskill while staying close to their families and support networks. 

A few days of in-person attendance are required each semester for our course and the students are also expected to complete practical work placements, which we aim to fit around their family and other commitments.

Some of our students this year are based in Wānaka and the Nelson-Marlborough region. We are working with local health providers so these students can complete clinical placements in their local area. We are also working to extend this option to students in other regions for next year’s intake.  

We work closely with the students and clinical providers to provide our students with the right kind of experience. Clinical placements provide our students with interactions with patients across the lifespan, from pregnancy and infants through to the elderly. They work in hospitals, communities, mental health services and in aged care centres. For their final semester the students signal what area of nursing they’d like to specialise in and we try to find them a relevant placement.

Despite the online learning model, our students have the chance to network and build friendships with their peers. Some online tutorials are held at the same time so everyone is able to log in together, and in April students spent two days at Ōnuku Marae near Akaroa. It was a fantastic process to watch them develop friendships that will in some cases be lifelong. It’s particularly important when working in healthcare that you have those personal and professional support networks that sustain you. 

We’re already seeing strong interest in our Master of Health Sciences (Nursing) course for next year. Our aim is to keep growing this model and refining our processes to support our students.

We want our students to thrive and succeed and contribute to a strong heath workforce in Aotearoa New Zealand.

  • Associate Professor Cathy Andrew is Director of Nursing and Executive Dean of Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury Faculty of Health

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