The history of Sydney Nursing School

25 years of change

Nursing education has undergone a dramatic transition within the last 25 years. For a long time before that, the task of educating nurses remained with hospitals, and was more like an apprenticeship than a formal education. Responsibility rested with the Minister for Health, at state level. From this system, the Nurses Registration Board emerged as the statutory authority within NSW.

Since July 2010 a new national health professional regulatory scheme has been in place. Nurses and midwives are now registered to work in Australia by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) and education standards for nursing practice and are monitored by the Australian Nursing and Midwiferery Accreditation Council (ANMAC).

Nurses find a voice

After much investigation and deliberation and several extensive reports, the direction of nursing education began to change. The climate was changing too. Nurses voiced the need to be better prepared and educated which required breaking away from the existing framework. At the same time, more people were continuing their education, and more women were taking up careers. The role of nurses was changing and the nursing profession began seeking recognition through improved conditions and better wages. A nursing career now required an internationally competitive education program. As a result, nursing organisations throughout Australia were forced to become more cohesive, and basic training was moved to the higher education sector.

A new faculty emerges

The University of Sydney has been conducting courses leading to eligibility to apply for registration as a nurse in NSW since the 1970s, initially through the former School of Nursing at Cumberland College of Health Sciences, now the Lidcombe Campus. This pilot program was instrumental convincing the government to undertake the state-wide transfer of nurse education to the higher education sector in 1985. The University expanded its role in nursing education with the inclusion of the Institute of Nursing of Sydney CAE within the University of Sydney at the time of the Dawkins amalgamations of 1990. This move to the University led to the founding of the Faculty of Nursing in 1991 at Camperdown.

In 2000, the two nursing programs offered by the University were amalgamated on the Mallett St site. In 2005, the faculty changed its name to include Midwifery, in line with emerging international and national trends which recognised Midwifery as a discipline separate to Nursing.

In 2004, the Commonwealth and State governments approved a proposal by the University of Sydney to transfer the rather large undergraduate pre-registration nursing student load to other NSW universities and to refocus its nursing programs to be more specialised and advanced. This enabled the commencement of a graduate entry master's (GEMs) program, and four combined degree programs all leading to registration as a nurse. These programs commenced in 2006.

A new name for a new era

In 2009 the faculty changed its name to Sydney Nursing School reflecting naming of other professional faculties within University of Sydney such as Sydney Medical School and Sydney Law School and in view of the fact that it no longer offered a pre-registration program in midwifery. The new name heralded a new era of close association with other University of Sydney health faculties, in particular Sydney Medical School and School of Public Health. It signals to our internal community and external stakeholders that we are part of an interprofessional learning, research and practice environment. This is an important statement to make with the federal government’s emphasis on Primary Health Care and the extended role of nurses and midwives.

New programs for growing career opportunities

In 2010, recognising new opportunities in health care, additional new programs were introduced which incorporate specialist studies in the areas of cancer and haematology, emergency, intensive care, clinical nursing, mental health and the role of the nurse practitioner. These programs include embedded advanced master’s programs with a capstone experience. Graduate nurses are being prepared for leadership roles in research, teaching and clinical practice, with degrees which are highly recognised locally and internationally.

Mindful of increasing roles for nursing professionals locally, nationally and internationally, another new course was introduced in 2012 – the Bachelor of Nursing (Advanced Studies). It caters to a significant sector of higher achieving school leavers and mature learners who, while not wishing to undertake a combined degree, welcome the challenges of advanced study and seek the kind of stimulating environment that the University of Sydney can provide.