The future nursing workforce in Australia: baseline data for a prospective study of the profile, attrition rates and graduate outcomes in a contemporary cohort of undergraduates
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Objective: To gather data from ten universities across two Australian states in order to: provide a descriptive demographic profile of undergraduate Australian nursing students; provide baseline data for a prospective analysis of attrition within undergraduate nursing programs; and to facilitate student recruitment into a prospective cohort study to examine graduate outcomes. Methods: Approval was sought from each Head of School to enable recruitment of undergraduate nursing students as a sub-sample of an ongoing large scale longitudinal e-cohort study involving Australian, New Zealand and United Kingdom nurses and midwives (http://www.e-cohort.net). Each nursing school nominated a contact person to become part of the research team; provide aggregate data on the quantity and demographic profile of currently enrolled undergraduate nursing students; and to facilitate recruitment of students into the cohort study. Results: Two of the ten universities could not supply any demographics of their undergraduate nursing student body and one university could not provide data on year levels. The remaining data revealed an interesting demographic profile in the following areas: the age range of students across both states was 17 to 68 years, with just under half the population of students aged over 25 years. Some universities had a younger cohort of students in comparison to others and this was potentially associated with universities which only offered their program in full-time mode. The high proportion of students choosing to enrol in their undergraduate program part-time in South Australia (22.5%) as well as the large number of international students at one Queensland university (28% in year one) may impact on the future graduate nursing workforce supply. Retrospective analysis of the average attrition rate in Queensland universities was estimated at 24.5% which is consistent with the findings of a recent systematic review of published primary studies. Conclusion: Whilst this preliminary data reveals some interesting issues, in general, there is a paucity of evidence about the demographics of the future Australian nursing workforce, attrition within undergraduate nursing programs and graduate outcomes. Clearly there is a need to systematically track undergraduates and new graduates to quantify student attrition, graduate retention and career plans and begin to build this evidence-base. A minimum demographic dataset of all undergraduate nursing students in Australia should be established to track trends over time that will inform future workforce planning.
Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing