Opportunity lost? The major in mental health nursing in Australia


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Background: The ongoing difficulty in educating and sustaining an adequate nursing workforce in mental health settings has been identified throughout the world. Different strategies have been implemented internationally to deal with this situation. In Australia major streams in mental health nursing were introduced in some Australian universities to promote mental health nursing as a viable career choice for nursing students. Fourteen universities had implemented or planned to implement a major stream in mental health nursing. From a survey of these programs a lack of consistency in the structure and content of programs was evident. For most programs the intakes had been relatively small, although retention rates appeared promising. Objectives: To determine the extent majors in mental health nursing introduced in Australia have been sustained since their implementation. Design: Cross-sectional design. A survey instrument used in 2010 was readministered in 2013. Setting: Schools of Nursing in Australia where a major in mental health nursing had been implemented or planned. Participants: Subject and program coordinators. Methods: The survey was administered via email. Results: Of the 14 majors in mental health nursing originally proposed or implemented, only five were remaining, three had never commenced the program despite plans to do so and six programs once operating had now ceased. Numbers of students undertaking the program have tended to be small. Few modification changes in the structure and content in the majors since initial implementation were reported. Conclusions: The findings suggest that the major in mental health nursing has not been a successful or sustainable strategy, and therefore is unlikely to contribute positively to strengthening the mental health nursing workforce. The availability of sufficient graduate nurses with the interest and skills to pursue a career in mental health nursing is becoming urgent. The adequate resourcing of strategies to address this issue needs to be considered as a matter of priority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E13-E17
Number of pages5
JournalNurse Education Today
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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