Journal of Professional Nursing

The Impact Of Post Graduate Education On Registered Nurses Working In Acute Care  

Dianne Barnhill RG BN, MN (Hons), Nurse Coordinator Postgraduate Education, Counties Manakau District Health Board
Ann McKillop RN, Doctor of Nursing Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland
Cathleen Aspinall RGN, MSc., Professional Teaching Fellow, University of Auckland

Reference:  Barnhill, D., McKillop, A., & Aspinall, C. (2012). The Impact of postgraduate education on registered nurses working in acute care. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 28(2), 27-36.


Since 2007, Health Workforce New Zealand has provided District Health Boards (DHBs) with funding to support nurses undertaking postgraduate education. As a result, a significant number of nurses, many working in general medical and surgical wards, have now completed a postgraduate qualification. Anecdotal evidence for one DHB indicated that there were mixed views with respect to how the increase in the number of nurses with postgraduate education had impacted on patient outcomes. Following a review of relevant literature the researchers aimed to ascertain from registered nurses working in acute medical and surgical wards their perception of the impact that further study had on their practice. A quantitative descriptive study was undertaken to answer the question of what impact postgraduate study had on the practice of those nurses working in medical and surgical wards of a District Health Board hospital? An anonymous postal survey was sent to registered nurses (N=57), and senior nurses (N=25) working in acute medical and surgical areas of practice. The latter group consisted of 16 nurse managers and 9 nurse educators. The results showed that registered nurses, nurse managers and nurse educators all perceived the clinical practice of registered nurses as having improved in some degree as a consequence of postgraduate education. There is also a need for further research to be undertaken in other District Health Boards, especially in non-hospital based areas such as primary health care; and also to investigate ways of linking post graduate education with career pathways, as well as identifying and minimising potential barriers likely to prevent application of post graduate learning in the workplace.  

postgraduate education, clinical practice, nursing education 

Postgraduate education is important to advance nursing practice at both individual and professional levels (Aitken, Currey, Marshall, & Elliott, 2008; Cragg & Andrusyszyn, 2004). Since 2007, Health Workforce New Zealand (HWNZ) (formally the Clinical Training Agency, a subunit of the New Zealand Ministry of Health) has provided District Health Boards (DHBs) with significant funding to support nurses to undertake postgraduate education (Clinical Training Agency, 2009). In one large DHB during every academic semester since 2007 over 200 nurses (including primary health care nurses) have undertaken postgraduate education. Additionally, the one postgraduate paper (McDonald, Willis, Fourie, & Hedgecock, 2009). By the end of the first semester in 2009, 249 nurses had completed a postgraduate qualification. Many of these nurses work in acute general medical and surgical wards. Senior nurses, however, have reported mixed opinions as to whether the increase in registered nurses with postgraduate qualifications in these acute settings has improved patient outcomes. In this article we report the results of a survey that sought perceptions of registered DHB’s Nurse Entry to Practice Programme includes nurses, nurse managers and nurse educators, about whether the postgraduate education of nurses positively impacted on patient clinical outcomes.

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