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SA leads innovative nursing education

Resource type: News


From South Africa’s state-of-the art virtual learning facility for nurses in Bloemfontein, to innovative teaching practices at the Western Cape to cope with doubled intake numbers, higher nursing education in South Africa is set to be dramatically transformed as the new University-based Nursing Education SA ( UNEDSA) programme gets underway. UNEDSA was established in January by the Atlantic Philanthropies to uplift and transform higher nursing education over four years through grants totalling R70-million. As International Nurses Day today focuses on Delivering quality, serving communities: Nurses leading care innovations, UNEDSA’s manager, Dr Vicki Pinkney-Atkinson, has paid tribute to all South African nurses who are well-placed to develop innovative solutions that would make a real difference to the lives of patients. Nurses deliver more health care in South Africa than the members of any other profession. For too long, we have not encouraged nurses to be leaders, but they can and must lead. They are best-placed to find better ways to promote health, provide care and change the way the profession is perceived. UNEDSA is dedicated to unleashing the potential of professional nurses, nurse educators and researchers to discover new knowledge which is central to improving quality of care. The grants have lighted a fire for nursing in South Africa; we have been given a chance to make a difference together we can do it, she said. One of the four grants was awarded to the School of Nursing at the University of the Free State to develop a virtual learning facility, regarded internationally as highly contemporary and a new way of teaching and thinking. Ours will probably be the first of its kind in South Africa and Africa too. At the moment, theory and practice are separated. We believe that with new technologies such as e-learning and high tech computer mediated equipment, we can use the ‘virtual world’ to bridge the theory-practice gap in the same location. We will be able to offer an economical but cutting edge option for nursing education by applying the principles of ‘blended learning’, said Prof Anita van der Merwe, head of the School. What’s really exciting about the virtual facility is how we now design educational spaces. Spaces are themselves agents for change, and we believe that such spaces will change nursing educational and clinical practice. The project is essentially about transformation: taking a stand against stagnation in nursing education and practice, and daring to be different, she said. The school is currently the only one in South Africa presenting wound care and forensic nursing as specialities. In the Western Cape, necessity proved to be the mother of innovation as the School of Nursing at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) had to double its student intake in 2004 from 150 to 300, due to the deficit of nurses in the province after it was declared the province’s only enrolling university for under-graduate nurse training. As the largest first degree offering in the country with over 1000 students, we focused on teaching and our scholarship and post-graduate outputs suffered. We had to completely revise our teaching approach to ensure active learning and high-calibre graduates. We identified the case-based method, which has all the characteristics of problem-based learning but can be applied to large class settings, as an appropriate approach to address our challenges and this was successfully implemented in 2005, said UNEDSA grantee and head of the school, Prof Thembisile Khanyile. We also introduced the use of ‘simulated patients’ recruited from the community as a useful strategy to overcome the challenges of limited clinical learning resources, said Prof Khanyile, adding that the school had learnt many lessons which could be useful for other under-resourced departments to successfully address provincial and national needs in nursing. Research output, particularly on the school’s learning and teaching experiences, will be a central focus of the School’s UNEDSA programme. We need evidence to share with the world that our innovations work, said Prof Khanyile. The other grantees are the Adelaide Tambo School of Nursing at Tshwane University of Technology which will establish a unique community-based learning opportunity for students by offering specialised primary, secondary and tertiary nursing care to communities through mobile clinics established in Shoshanguve Ext 12 and 13. The Department of Nursing Sciences at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) believes that the environment and resources influences students’ learning and will soon build a world-class School of Health Sciences to help improve nursing scholarship in the Eastern Cape through the establishment of a new PhD programme and strengthened Masters’ programme. More about nursing innovations and the UNEDSA programme can be found on the new UNEDSA website ( which was launched on International Nurses Day. The site will host job links and be a place where nurses share positive stories, promote evidence-based research and inform policy emanating from the programme.