Taking the plunge into self-directed, online study is a big step. Nursing is an extremely demanding profession and you may be wondering if you’ve got the time to balance study with work, family and lifestyle commitments.
To help you discover how James Cook University supports its nursing students, we sat down with course coordinator, Dr Narelle Biedermann, and current student, Jane.
Narelle practised at Townsville General Hospital and served in the Australian Defence Force as a nursing officer. In addition to her role as Course Coordinator for the Master of Nursing, she also holds a PhD with research interests in military nursing and online learning pedagogy.
Jane is a registered nurse, who initially qualified in England. She has worked in public and private hospitals throughout Sydney. In addition to specialisation in surgery and orthopaedics, Jane has previously taught nursing at TAFE. She is currently an academic and clinical facilitator with a university in Sydney.
Here are some of the questions Narelle and Jane were asked in a recent webinar by prospective students.
What were your reasons for choosing to study a Master of Nursing?
Jane: I’ve been qualified for 20 years, and I’m a very proud and passionate nurse. I wanted to maintain my educational currency and make sure I was up to date. I also wanted to move from teaching in a TAFE environment to teaching in higher education, and I needed a more advanced qualification than the one I was teaching.
"I wanted an intellectual challenge – I wanted to learn some new, practical skills that could help with my job, some new educational tips."
I hadn’t studied for a long time, and I wanted to prove to myself that I still could study. I have a son and I wanted to be a positive role model. I wanted him to appreciate that you could educate yourself throughout your life and that you should always be striving for things. The nature of nursing is constantly evolving, and our roles encompass so much more. I didn’t want to be left behind. After putting it off for about five years, I got on with it earlier this year.
How do you find the six-week intensive nature of the content – have you been able to manage it?
Jane: What’s great is that you get all the information given to you in the first week. You can unpack the whole topic and work out what it is they’re asking you to do. I always map when assignments are due – I get quite organised for my six weeks.
"I like the idea of doing one subject at a time, because you can really concentrate on it, immerse yourself in it and learn as much as you can."
Once you do this and get all the readings done, it becomes easier to write the assignments. After you finish, you have a couple of weeks break, and then you refocus to start on the next one. Because you’re doing them sequentially, but with a gap between them, it’s easier to fit into your life than trying to blend two or three topics at the same time. Particularly when you’re not doing face-to-face teaching, I think it’s a lot simpler to follow.
Narelle: That’s the beauty of this model. When you do need to take a break, if there’s something coming up in your life, you can take a study period off and in eight weeks another subject will be running. It’s a lot more flexible than a full semester is in traditional models of teaching and learning.
Does the new Advanced Practice major qualify me to become a nurse practitioner?
Narelle: The Advanced Practice major doesn’t give you the qualifications to become a nurse practitioner. There’s no back door into a nurse practitioner program. While the major doesn’t give you specific practitioner qualifications, it does assist students to develop advanced assessment and diagnostic reasoning skills that may then assist you if you chose to do a nurse practitioner program at some other point.
What are the main types of assessment?
Narelle: Our assessments are the most authentic assessments that you are probably ever going to encounter within a higher education degree. Gone are the days of the 3,000-word essays. We don’t do that. What we try to do is implement assessment that the student can develop and prepare for, that demonstrates their understanding of the content and that they have met the learning outcomes.
"With our focus on authentic assessments, students can submit it one day, and then take it into their workplace and use it the next."
For those in the education major, it might be the creation of a teaching plan that addresses a genuine issue in the workplace, or in the leadership and management major, it might be the creation of a strategic resource addressing a problem that actually exists in their workplace.
Jane: I’ve never learnt so many practical skills in my assessments that I could use. I’d never done a narrative PowerPoint in my life – turns out it’s very, very easy. Since I was taught it in my second topic, I’ve used it three or four times in my job. It’s about looking at problems that you actually have to deal with in your professional career and thinking about answers to it. It’s really solution-focused, and because it’s so personal, I’ve become invested in my assignments and I’ve actually quite enjoyed them. I can see their relevance and how much I have improved while I’ve done them.
How have you found returning to study and maintaining a balance?
Jane: I’m amazed that I can balance work and study. I think because it is all online I can pace myself. I know when I have weeks at work that are a lot harder than others, and I know that I must allow about 120-130 hours within the six-week study period. I can work that time around when my assignments are due, so I can fit it in around full-time work, my family, friends and hobbies. It’s fitted in a lot better than I thought it would.
I’ve never done online study before, but I absolutely love it, and I’m amazed that I did because I thought I would be someone who wanted face-to-face communication. If you’ve got lots of things going on in your life, online study is so much easier to fit into the life that you’ve got.
If Narelle and Jane have piqued your interest, learn more about studying nursing at a postgraduate level by calling our Student Enrolment Advisors on 1300 535 919.