The changing face of nursing

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Nursing has changed considerably over the past 40 years, and Massey University alumna Rose Stewart has seen it all.

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Rose Stewart's nursing career has included several stints studying at Massey University.

Last updated: Thursday 23 June 2022

Nursing has changed considerably over the past 40 years, and Massey University alumna Rose Stewart has seen it all.

Currently Mrs Stewart (62) is National Nurse Advisor for Family Planning – the most senior nurse role within Family Planning – based at the Margaret Sparrow Clinic in Wellington. She says she reluctantly stepped into nursing at just 17.

“It was 1970, so I was very aware of the feminist movement, but having parents who were from a previous generation, the mandate for us was to go out and get jobs. There was no option for university study for me without a clear employment goal, so nursing was somewhere you could go and be free from your parents and be financially independent. You were paid to work in the hospital while you learnt and delivered a valuable service. At the time, I didn’t particularly want to be a nurse, but it was an option to be independent,” she says.

Raised in Nelson, Mrs Stewart moved to Christchurch to train, before basing herself in Wellington.

In 1980, Mrs Stewart enrolled in postgraduate education, which spurred her interest in advanced nursing practice. “Then I went back to the hospital and became a cardiothoracic charge nurse. I got married, went overseas, and came back with plans to have children. I took on a job in Porirua, while I was expecting my first child, working alongside a GP. It was an innovative practice model, paid for by the hospital board. I had my own room, and was seeing patients separately from the GP. Then I was sent on a Family Planning course, and I thought yep, that’s where I want to be, so after I had my first child I applied for a job at Family Planning and I have been here since 1988. It has been a fabulous career where I can make a difference to clients and to nursing alike.”

Fast forward to 2003, Mrs Stewart discovered an opportunity to further her study, taking on post-graduate papers through Otago Polytechnic. The course was being offered in Nelson and Christchurch, as part of a push for nurses in rural areas.

For the Nelson Girls College old girl, the choice was easy. “I chose Nelson as my parents were still there, so it meant an opportunity to go to Nelson once or twice a month. My dad died the next year. I look at that as one of those incredible opportunities, where you take it and you get something fantastic out of it that you don’t expect. It was wonderful.”

Back to the books

In 2015 Mrs Stewart returned to Massey’s Wellington campus, to complete a prescribing practicum under Dr Jill Wilkinson from the School of Nursing. Now a Registered Nurse prescriber, Mrs Stewart says the ability for nurses to prescribe has changed the level of personal responsibility. “Putting one’s name on the prescription means taking full responsibility. We’ve got great systems for when nurses don’t prescribe independently and they work, but I think you change nurses’ sense of total personal responsibility around that prescription when they put their name to it.”

Her advice for aspiring nurses? “Take opportunities – you don’t know what it’s going to give you. And don’t give up. Generationally it’s very different for young people now. Nursing is seen in a whole different way. When I was a young nurse, it was what women did until they became a full-time mother, then it became what women didn’t do, because they could do more. Today, nursing is recognised as a valuable career option with real opportunities for ongoing skill development and the ability to make a positive difference in community health.”

Nurse Practitioners (master’s qualified) have full prescriptive authority at the same level as medical practitioners. Registered Nurses with a postgraduate diploma who prescribe have a more confined range of prescribing capability, but like Nurse Practitioners they also increase the range and availability of services for people.

Mrs Stewart is currently leading a project to develop a cohort of RN prescribers in community health who will hold the third level of nurse prescribing, which does not require postgraduate study. It is planned that eventually all RNs at graduation will be able to prescribe to a certain level which can then be extended with ongoing postgraduate study.