One Friday night at a Sydney hospital recently, third year nursing students beginning night shift were amused to find that the registered nurse in charge was their lecturer, Dr Trish Farrar of the Faculty of Nursing,Midwifery and Health.
In the classroom, Farrar draws on her clinical experience and encourages students to share stories of theirs. "Clinical relevance is really important. The students love the fact that I am not just teaching from the text-book."
It was 19 years since Farrar had nursed in a hospital and she says that the shortage of skilled nurses is very evident – "it impacts on the level of care." When on night shift, Farrar is often the only registered nurse with enrolled nurses and casual assistants. "Because the demand for nurses cannot be met, recent nursing graduates could find themself in charge on a shift.
"There is a disparity between the private and public sector," she says. The private sector uses an increasing number of casual staff who are cheap to employ but only have a few days training. "It is difficult working with casual staff because not only are they unqualified, they are also unfamiliar with the hospital. I would only want to be a patient if I was on duty."
After teaching at the Kuring-gai campus also for the past 19 years she recently moved over to the faculty's new facilities in Building 10 of the city campus to teach medical-surgical nursing. "I try to demonstrate the way that I use clinical judgement. So for example this week I was teaching how to insert a naso-gastro tube and I actually had an emergency case recently. I was able to use that clinical case to demonstrate the procedure that I was teaching."
The co-ordinator of the new Graduate Certificate in Clinical Teaching commencing next year, Farrar believes that registered nurses, are the glue that keeps the hospital system together and should be given nurse practitioner status.
Despite hospital conditions she loves working as a nurse and teaching. "I really enjoy fusing my wealth of accumulated knowledge in medical surgical nursing with teaching and clinical practice." While her nursing experience comes in handy in the classroom, her teaching skills come into play in the hospital. "I try to model professional nursing behaviour." She sets an example by arriving 15 minutes before her shift to introduce herself to the patients who are awake and to ensure that they are comfortable for the night ahead.