Starting in fall 2018, first and second-year nursing students will follow a new curriculum with an emphasis on leadership.

The program changes were approved on November 28 by the General Faculties Council and will affect incoming first and second-year nursing students at the University of Alberta. Changes include four new leadership courses, a component to address stress on the job, and a leadership practicum. The change will show students how they can make a difference in the way healthcare is delivered, said Sandra Davidson, the faculty’s associate dean of undergraduate programming.

Currently, nursing students take INT D 410 (Interprofessional Health Team Development) in their first year, where they and other non-nursing students work in groups to solve scenarios and build leadership skills. Students can also take NURS 409 (Leadership and Issues in Nursing) in their last year of study. However, these courses have received criticism as many students felt unprepared and didn’t feel they could contribute to the interdisciplinary discussions.

“Unfortunately for the nurses, we often end up being the team member with the least practical experience (in the course),” said David Ryan Scott, a recent nursing graduate and former Students’ Councillor for the faculty. “I felt unable to effectively develop interprofessional communication skills at that time because I didn’t have enough knowledge to effectively lead or contribute.”

Leadership skills will also be built through a new mandatory leadership practicum in the fourth year of the nursing program. For the practicum, students will choose an area of interest and then will be paired with a nurse leader in that field as a precursor to a final capstone project addressing a problem of their choosing.

The new nursing curriculum will also help students become more resilient to the stressors they will encounter as nurses, something that Scott said was previously learned (or not learned) by experience on the job.

“Nurses experience a lot of burnout … especially new graduates.” Scott said. “These non-clinical (coping) skills are what help us in the first few years on the job.”

Additionally, the clinical portions of the nursing degree will be revised to be more relevant to material learned in class. Instead of just learning facts and theory, Davidson said students will learn overarching principles and how to apply them.

Some of the program changes are already being piloted in first-year nursing classes and their outcomes are being closely monitored for success. Davidson said she hopes these changes will further standardise the education of nursing students at the University of Alberta.

“We want nurses to change the world,” she said. “However, to make change you must start with how you educate people for that profession”.

Image courtesy of Danika Kunimoto
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