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Role of nurses continues to evolve

[Nursing Week]
The School of Nursing will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2016. (University Communications)

The role of nurses within health care systems across Canada continues to change and the education programs responsible for training the next generation nurses, such as the School of Nursing at Queen’s University, must keep up with this transformation.

Nursing Week this year is marked May 11-15 and as Jennifer Medves, Director of the School of Nursing and Vice-Dean Faculty of Health Sciences, points out, it is an opportunity for those in the profession to receive a bit of recognition for all their efforts.

“Nursing Week is about, we hope, people stopping and recognizing the contribution of nursing to the health care systems,” she says, explaining that there is not just one health care system but many at the provincial, territorial and federal levels. “What nurses have in their scope of practice varies from one province to territory and the scope of practices for nurses is increasing.”

One new development announced earlier this week by the Government of Ontario is that nurse practitioners will be able to refer patients directly to a specialist, when before they had to first refer to a family physician. The result is a more efficient system of referrals.

 “That really was an added step that costs the system money and really is not required,” Dr. Medves says. “That was a very nice announcement that came out (Monday).”

While many people still tend to think the main role of nurses is working at the bedside in acute care hospitals, Dr. Medves says that there is an increasing percentage of nurses working in the community care sector, where patients are cared for in their own homes. As a result, the School of Nursing needs to provide education to meet these future needs.

“Looking into the future we need to be thinking about what those roles could look like and we, in an education program, are always looking to make sure that the practice for our education program is congruent with where the nurses will be working in the future,” she says.

Yet change is not a reason for concern. Instead, Dr. Medves sees it as a time of growth and the School of Nursing is in the midst of setting out its future course for the next five years.

“It’s exciting times because we are thinking about where we want to go in the future,” she says. “We’re in the middle of developing a strategic plan to last us until 2020, which obviously lines up with the strategic plan of the university and aligns with the Faculty of Health Sciences.”

In the shorter term, the School of Nursing is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2016. Dr. Medves says there are four special events planned throughout the academic year, including a pair of conferences.

This summer the school will also be celebrating two new graduate scholarships, funded by alumni of the School of Nursing, while the first Sally Smith Chair in Nursing, named in honour of Edith “Sally” (Carruthers) Smith, the wife of local philanthropist A. Britt Smith, who died in June 2012, will be named in the coming weeks.