Education by degrees

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Education by degreesOn 1 Jun 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Whatis the most appropriate qualification for an occupational  health nurse and does it match whatemployers, public or private, really want? By Nic Paton In recent years, the pressure on occupational health nurses to be qualifiedto degree level has intensified. But according to Dr Alan Feest, course director and senior lecturer inoccupational health nursing at the University of Bristol, there remains adiscrepancy between what the profession feels should be the yardstick forexcellence and what some employers actually want from their OH team. “I have heard employers say they do not interview people who havespecialist practitioner status because they are not prepared to pay specialistpractitioner wages to someone who they will then have to train,” he says. What do employers want? It is this sort of attitude that goes to the heart of the education debatein occupational health – what is the most appropriate qualification for OHnurses and does it match what employers – public or private – really want? May Ryan, lecturer in occupational health and leader of the pathway foroccupational health nursing at Brunel University, argues that, while the degreeor postgraduate-level specialist practitioner qualification remains theprofessional benchmark, the reality is that, for some people, a diploma orlesser qualification is adequate. “A number of people will want nursing specialist practitioner’squalifications but there will be others who will want to go for a course thatoffers a more discrete qualification,” she says. “Employers will make decisions in terms of who they are going to wantto take on. A specialist practitioner qualification is not a mandatoryrequirement.” Ryan, who is also a member of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Educators,adds that a diploma-level qualification may, for instance, be favoured byemployers who already have a comprehensive health team in place. “They mayalso suit people who feel they do not want to sit at degree level,” shesays. Dorothy Ferguson, MSC coordinator at Glasgow Caledonian University, concurs.”If you want a professional qualification in occupational health nursing,then you have to look at the specialist practitioner qualification. And youhave to make sure the course you are doing is recognised by the UKCC,” shesays. Specialist practitioner courses A specialist practitioner course has to be 50 per cent theory and 50 percent practice, Ferguson adds. In Scotland students do not have the option of adiploma course because no-one offers occupational health at that level. Anincreasing number of students are graduates anyway. While, according to Bristol’s Feest, scepticism remains among employersabout the relevance of a professional qualification within the workplace, thisshould in no way put OH practitioners off striving to attain professionalstatus. “Everybody should try to go for the degree. We have had people who havebeen suppressed all their working lives. One of my best students came to us atthe age of 52 after spending 25 years working as an OH nurse,” he says. “When she came to us she was a nervous, shaking chain smoker. In thefirst week she was angry, in the second week she was quiet and by the thirdweek she was asking questions. She has now worked through a whole range ofsenior positions.” The university offers a BSc Honours degree in occupational health nursing,based in the engineering faculty because “it is run by people whounderstand the technology”, although the course is registered with themedical faculty. The two-year residential course is taught entirely by practisingpractitioners, and includes an assessment of the student’s workplace and has aNebosh component. Says Feest: “We have a facility here that allows us to give people apass degree or a diploma, but they enter into the degree course.” “Some people are not interested in getting specialist practitionerstatus. It is really only relevant to those in the NHS. The English NationalBoard [the statutory body in England that ensures programmes meet UKCC standards]is very hospital orientated, but most OH nurses do not work in the NHS,”he contends. “Most of the large institutions offer extensive and large nursingcourses and they have to fit OH nurses into that. We just do OH nursing. Itcovers the core syllabus but entirely from the OH point of view. “Occupational health has a special client base, problems ofconfidentiality and other things. It is really inappropriate to lob it in witha school of nurses,” says Feest. In the past, practitioners have often turned to the ENB for careers adviceor information on the best choice of course. Technically, according to TomLanglands, director of primary health care nursing education at the ENB, theboard has now passed its careers advisory role to the NHS Careers AdvisoryService in Bristol. But he adds, “Because of the network the board has, and its links withhigher education, very often we are able to respond to individualqueries.” Course information The ENB publishes a circular outlining where courses are located, includinga brief outline of what each individual programme is about. While it is mostlyaimed at university departments, it is available to the public. The board alsohas a publications department, where information on specialist practitioner standardscan be obtained. Whether students are in Scotland or the rest of the country, geography islikely to play an important part in helping to decide where to study, saysCaledonian’s Ferguson. Speaking to former students who have already done acourse should also be a crucial part of the decision-making process. “From the basic education point of view, the course you choose willprobably be dictated by where you live and what is available locally. For mostpeople, gaining access to a programme is a question of whether they canphysically get there,” she says. This is particularly relevant when it comes to day release courses, althoughit is less of an issue on residential courses. Yet, if the course is right,students will invariably find a way of getting there, adds Brunel’s Ryan. “People need to enquire of the colleges and to discuss the times andthe ways in which they can access the courses available. Distance learning The option of studying through distance learning has so far been limited – withonly Aberdeen University offering such a course. But this may be about tochange. Graham Johnson, occupational health nurse at Interact HealthManagement, formerly MTL Medical Services, is in the final stages of linking upwith a university in the north-west of England to offer a BA Honours distancelearning course in Occupational Health and Safety Management – which will leadto a specialist practitioner qualification in OH nursing including a Neboshdiploma. “We feel that that there is a market ready for tapping into. It isoften difficult for individuals to get the day release they need,” hesays. He hopes to have the course up and running from October. “Governmentstrategy appears to have put occupational health nursing on the map at last.Now our education needs to catch up. The more courses there are and the moremodes available the better,” he says. Financial benefits OH practitioners also need to think carefully what they may be giving up ifthey discount the option of a specialist practitioner qualification, Johnsonargues. Salary levels can differ markedly between pre- and post-specialistpractitioner qualified nurses, with the latter expecting to make about £30,000or more compared with about £10,000 less for the former. The cost of the course itself is unlikely to be an issue, as most employerscan be expected to foot the bill, recognising the benefit that will come theirway from having a professionally qualified occupational health nurse on board. Would-be students should turn to the ENB, speak to universities andcolleagues and read journals such as Occupational Health or Nursing Times,Johnson advises. And, according to Sue Lamb, recruitment and development manager at OH Recruitment,employers looking to recruit OH professionals do still generally want nurseswith a specialist practitioner qualification. Some are unsure of the layers of qualifications and all the differentdegrees, but in the end what the employer really wants is a course that hasbeen recognised by the UKCC and ENB, adds Lamb. A pure occupational health qualification is a luxury few organisations canafford these days, and OH nurses would be well advised to obtain a parallelhealth and safety qualification, asserts Lily Lim, project leader for the BScand MSc occupational health and safety degree course at Middlesex University. “If you are studying for a qualification in safety, then it seems verylogical that both health and safety and occupational health should be part ofit,” she says. Pure OH courses are able to provide greater clinical depth and knowledge,she concedes, but that can now often be provided through practice nurses in GPsurgeries and OH nurses with specialist clinical knowledge. The Association of Occupational Health Nurse Educators, of which Lim ischairwoman, has been collating a database of all the courses available. This isdue to be published on the internet but, until then, Lim has said he is happyto field individual queries by e-mail. The old-fashioned route of learning your OH skills on the job can stillapply, albeit now in a much more limited form, argues Ryan. “People often gain access to occupational health by simply going intodepartments, where they are usually given a lot of supervision and training, solearning on the job is still an option.” But, according to the ENB’s Langlands, where the specialist practitionerqualification comes into its own is that it gives nurses greater clinicalknowledge and the ability to attain a higher level of responsibility. “The specialist practitioner qualification is a leadership preparationfor the occupational health nurse,” he says. “It is not a requirementfor anyone to be a specialist practitioner. What you want depends on what youremployer wants you to do or what you are seeking from your career. Yourqualification is about what competencies you need for that role,” heconcludes. Bristol University OH course: http://vll.fen.bris.ac.ukEnglish National Board publications department: 020-7391 6314 Lily Lim: [email protected] study: Bristol UniversityCarol Standish, an occupationalhealth nursing officer at Akcros Chemicals in Manchester, is due to finish aBSC Honours degree at Bristol University in occupational health nursing underDr Alan Feest in a matter of weeks. But getting to this point was an uphillstruggle.Standish originally enrolled on a diploma course in communityhealth nursing at the University of Manchester – the nearest college to herhome – with the intention of then going on to a degree course and obtainingspecialist practitioner status.On the Manchester course, she found herself sitting in lecturesattended by 80 other students, mostly midwives, community psychiatric nursesand district nurses. “Particular parts of it I found relevant, but I foundit difficult to apply it to my work,” she says.Also, as the day release course was based on a modularstructure and not all her modules fell on the same day, she was forced to takemore time off from her employer than she had anticipated. Then, to cap it all,just before she completed the course, the ENB removed its trainingrecommendation.”I had signed up for four years and now my plans werescuppered. My options seemed to be Leeds, Sheffield or Wolverhampton,”says Standish.But she saw the residential course in Bristol advertised inOccupational Health. “It was much more relevant in terms of myorganisation than any of the others that I had seen,” she says.”If you go into an OH department, you have got to know thelaw and health and safety law in particular. It is not like nursing on a ward.Sometimes in occupational health you are on your own.”Case study: Caledonian UniversityProximity to home and work was thebiggest selling point for occupational health nurse Tracy McFall when it cameto choosing a course in 1998. But McFall, an OH nurse with IBM in Greenock,also chose Caledonian University’s occupational health nursing degree course”because I rather liked its approach to OH, which takes in quite a publichealth agenda”, she says.McFall found studying alongside community nurses, districtnurses and community psychiatric nurses a very positive experience, particularlyin helping her understand how the different health professionals meshed in thecommunity, and could be used in the workforce. It also helped in building upcontacts. “I am particularly interested in how public health canlink into occupational health strategy. What can OH nurses do to link in withGovernment strategy, for instance?”McFall, who has just had a baby, is now working on a PhDlooking at the role of occupational health nursing in the prevention anddetection of coronary heart disease in the workplace. She says, “I found the course really beneficial. I usedthe community psychiatric team in my workplace. If I had not studied with theteam I may not have known that resource was there. “I think the difficulty with occupational health is thatit sometimes operates in isolation. We are not very good at telling otherhealth professionals what we do, it is about working in collaboration.”last_img

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