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Finding better care through perfect practice

4 May 2009

A new strategy for boosting nursing and midwifery research at Monash University focuses on how to better meet the needs of patients.

Almost ten years ago, when the words 'practice development' rarely passed the lips of Australian health professionals, the Monash School of Nursing and Midwifery was part of a group that stimulated the development of the International Practice Development Collaborative, a network of organisations in the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, that focused on how to ask the right research questions to find solutions to problems in the clinical environment and nursing workforce.

A decade later, Monash continues to strengthen its focus on this important intersection between research and clinical work, and on how to improve the work environments and expectations of nurses and midwives.

"In the health system, you get so pressured by movements of patients in and out, filling out forms, that you forget the person you're there for in the first place. People don't do it consciously, but they do it. And there are also a lot of old workplace cultural behaviours that we need to address," says Professor Wendy Cross, Head of the Monash School of Nursing and Midwifery.

One of the big challenges for the nursing workforce is retention - an ongoing issue in a workforce of women, many of whom are of childbearing age - but also one put under new constraints as young, Generation Y staff seek more flexibility in their professional lives.

The School of Nursing and Midwifery's new strategy for research includes a strong practice development direction.

Associate Professor Cheryle Moss, who was Deakin University's first female Dean during the 1980s, joined Monash this year to take a lead in research and practice development. She sees a strong connection between practice development and theories in education and management.

Her work in New Zealand, where she was Research Coordinator at Victoria University of Wellington, included helping health teams to plan their work for the next 12 months and then to measure those achievements.

"You can have an idea about what's important, but actually achieving that in practice is a very different reality. This is about the science of working in the context of those realities to bring about substantial change and development."

She says that the environment of scholarship in the university needs to better strengthen the interaction with the everyday work of nurses, leading to the sharing of knowledge.

"There's often cynicism in clinical workplaces about the relevance of the university. And there's often cynicism in the university about the relevance of clinical communities," she says.

"The work of practice development helps those processes because it really sponsors community engagement in scholarship. They're not just ends that serve the university. They bring into balance those two aspects - the need for production of knowledge and the teaching of knowledge, and then the need for utilisation of knowledge around the most pressing clinical and social questions."


A/Prof Cheryle Moss

Associate Professor Cheryle Moss