‘Don’t cry over nurses leaving; train more,’ says educator

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Mandeville, Manchester, Jamaica — Rather than responding to a migration-spurred shortage of trained registered nurses as if the “sky is falling”, Jamaican authorities should be concentrating on training more nurses, says principal of the Knox Community College, Dr Gordon Cowans.
Furthermore, Cowans says Knox Community College and similar institutions across the country are perfectly positioned to be part of the solution, once they are authorised to train more nurses.
Community colleges are “not only willing but able to be part of the solution of the crisis (nursing shortage) around which so many simply cry”, Cowans told a striping and awards ceremony at the Cobbla Campus of the Knox Community College in late January.
The ceremony marked the achievements, so far, of students being trained at Cobbla to become registered nurses equipped with the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN), as well as diploma-holding assistant nurses.
One hundred and twenty six students — including three men — in the four-year BScN programme received stripes. Thirty-five students doing Knox’s two-year enrolled assistant nursing course were also recognized for their progress.
The BScN programme at Knox is done in collaboration with the University of the West Indies (UWI) School of Nursing.
Cowans argued that even as nurses are tempted by fat salaries in North America and Britain, Jamaica should be seizing the “opportunity” to train more nurses at facilities such as Knox, which he claimed had proven beyond doubt its capacity to graduate professionals of “excellence”.
Though Knox was permitted to accept 50 student nurses in September 2016, up from 25 in earlier years, the community college was ready to accept far more, he told journalists following the striping ceremony.
“There is no point in having schools like ours, that have over 150 applicants (for registered nursing course) every year, and for the last decade or so each year we could only take 25,” said Cowans.
“Thankfully, since September 2016 we are taking 50, but we have worked to expand our potential for intake to three times that, so we could train at this very same standard,” he said.
Under Jamaican law, the Nursing Council of Jamaica (NCJ) has regulatory authority for the education and training of Jamaican nurses and determines the number of applicants entering nursing schools.
The Nurses and Midwives Act of 1964, empowers NCJ to control and monitor the education and training of students seeking to become and practice as registered nurses, registered midwives, and enrolled assistant nurses.
Cowans conceded that there are “potential challenges” to increased intake of student nurses because of limited opportunity for properly conducted practical training in Jamaica’s under-resourced health facilities.
But he argued that innovative approaches, including international partnerships and simulation laboratories, could address such hindrances.
“It should not be said that there are not potential challenges, and one of the challenges I have heard, over and over is the small number of clinical placements (opportunities for practical training) in a relatively small country with relatively few hospitals … so, we need also to look for models where we could have clinical support coming from overseas,” Cowans argued.
He noted that Knox “with some international help”, had developed its own simulation labs. Further, Knox was in negotiation with Canadian interests attracted by Jamaican nurses to develop training partnerships, he said.
Cowans later told Jamaica Observer Central that an MOU was being developed with Canadian institutions based in Ontario to assist with “appropriate clinical experience” for Knox student nurses.
“What I am saying is, as Jamaicans, we have to get with it a little bit more,” said Cowans. “For me there is too much of this ‘the sky is falling, a crisis is upon us’ attitude when in fact, what really presents itself to us is opportunity, in the case of Knox untapped opportunity,” he said.
He rejected the notion that increased numbers being trained could lead to a fall in standard.
“Too many think that standards have an inverse relationship to numbers,” said Cowans.
“If you have a commitment to excellence and you know what factors are necessary for excellence, then you won’t become a victim of your own success; you will ensure that all the factors are in place in proper measure in order that you can maintain your standard,” he said.
International recognition of the consistently high quality of Jamaican trained nurses explained why so many were being lured away, Cowans said.
However, in order to satisfy the great demand locally and overseas, the time had come to “get past the business of people being enamoured by the quality nurses that Jamaica produce and simply produce some more”, he said.
Earlier this month, health minister Dr Christopher Tufton announced that discussions were taking place between Jamaica and Britain for possible partnerships to train and share Jamaican nurses.
Last month Tufton told a World Health Organization forum in Geneva, Switzerland, that the “brain drain” of Jamaican nurses had “virtually crippled the delivery of certain health care services and has had a dramatic effect on the overall quality of health care”.

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