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COVID’s strain on health system also a drain on intensive care studies

“Sadly this year, while some nurses continue to be keen to take up study with financial support from employers and government, the pandemic is having an impact.”

Deakin University also offers postgraduate qualifications in critical care and intensive care nursing. Students are required to be working concurrently in these fields as they study.

‘All health work is challenging, but these patients are very, very difficult work.’

Daniel Andrews

Deakin associate professor of nursing, Melissa Bloomer, said the strain that COVID-infected patients were placing on the hospital system had made this requirement harder to fulfil.

“Concurrent employment in the relevant speciality area is a course requirement,” Professor Bloomer said.

“So despite the increasing interest and demand for upskilling nurses to work in intensive and critical care, the clinical response to COVID-19 has impacted the capacity of ICU teams to increase the number of students they can support during their postgraduate studies.”

The Age asked Melbourne, Deakin and La Trobe universities if enrolments in critical and intensive care nursing had been affected by the pandemic, but none of the institutions provided figures.

Doctors have warned that staff shortages in hospital emergency departments have reached a point where they risk being shut down when coronavirus outbreaks take hold. They have called for the establishment of an emergency plan to cope with future hospital staffing shortages.

The Victorian government is running a recruitment campaign, calling on healthcare workers and students to join the COVID-19 workforce.

Students in fields including medicine, dentistry, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy, nursing and midwifery and paramedicine have been urged to join.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation Victorian Branch president Lisa Fitzpatrick said the high cost of postgraduate nursing studies was a disincentive for some members of the workforce to upgrade their qualifications.

“University fees are expensive and I don’t know the rationale for the expense behind those postgraduate qualifications. Most of them are a six-month course but somehow [people] are still being charged $11,000 to $15,000,” she said.

Interest in studying nursing at the undergraduate level has surged in the pandemic, with fees being cut by 45 per cent this year under the Morrison government’s Job Ready Graduates reforms.

But some students on placements, as well as new graduates, have reported feeling exhaustion and disconnection from colleagues while working in emergency departments, the head of a support agency for nurses says.

Glenn Taylor, the chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program, said the pandemic had deprived some graduates of the chance to form important bonds with new colleagues, and for established medical staff to mentor new arrivals.

“Now everyone is working at a very high capacity and we’re hearing that there is that anxiety that the students and early career nurses are feeling, like they’re finding it hard to find their place, because of all the uncertainty, demands and change,” Mr Taylor said.

With Ashleigh McMillan

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