Speeches

Speech by Mr Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children, at the official opening of the new School of Nursing at Dublin City University

Introduction

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be invited here today on this historic, landmark occasion for nursing education to officially open the School of Nursing in Dublin City University. I’ve called this a landmark occasion and, indeed, the building itself is a landmark as it is the first new, purpose-built school of nursing in Ireland. As such, it stands as a testament to the pioneering spirit of Dublin City University, a university which is always willing to take the lead in the quest for fresh thinking and educational innovation. I know that this spirit of exploration and innovation will be engendered in the students who will study within these walls and who will, in turn, form the fabric of our future health services.

The Construction Team

I would like to begin by congratulating the design team, the building contractors and the many others, who committed their time and energy to this project, on their achievement. This impressive building, which was completed on time and within budget, is indeed a tribute to your professionalism.

And, in celebrating the completion of this splendid structure which will be the future home of the faculty of nursing in DCU, I would like to look back at the foundation on which the new programme for nurse education in Ireland was built.

Initiation of the Degree Programme

The blueprint for the rejuvenation of nurse education was drafted back in 1998 by the Commission on Nursing, which recommended the implementation of a Nursing Degree Programme to the Government. The Government expressed its wholehearted commitment to the programme, providing capital funding of over €240 million for the project, €26 million of which was allocated to Dublin City University.

This funding was provided to ensure an optimum learning environment for nursing students in DCU through the provision of purpose-built facilities with state of the art clinical skills and human science laboratories. More simply put, funding was provided for the creation of a new physical structure which would perfectly support the new academic structure. I have no doubt that the new School of Nursing here at DCU will fulfil just such a role and prove a haven for learning for both current and future generations.

The scale of investment in pre-registration nursing education is enormous by any yardstick. But of course, the government wouldn’t wish to take all the credit. The funding provided by the government is but one of the many building blocks from which the degree programme has been crafted. Indeed it is due to the energies and efforts of many, many people involved in this innovative new educational programme over the last four years that we have all finally arrived here today. The institutes of education, the health services, especially DCU’s six partner hospitals, government departments and in particular, the local joint working group to whom I would like to pay special tribute, under the chairpersonship of Professor Anne Scott; all these groups have carefully and cautiously paved the way forward for Irish nursing education, and the fruit of their combined efforts, the Nursing Degree Programme, is thus a testament to the concept of “progress through partnership”.

Progress through Partnership

Moreover, the concept of “Progress through Partnership” lies at the very heart of the new nursing degree programme.

In this era of vast technological progress and rapid social change, an ever wider range of knowledge and skills is required to manage the diverse needs of patients and populations comprehensively, effectively and efficiently. It is imperative that the healthcare system be reformed in light of these emerging social needs to ensure that it is as dynamic and fluid as the society it serves. The health services of the future will therefore require a fresh multi-dimensional approach to the delivery of patient care. It will be reliant on teams of trained professionals; on nurses, midwives, doctors, therapists, social workers, pharmacists and other providers all working and communicating effectively together. In short, the health service of the future will require greater inter-disciplinary co-operation in the delivery of health care and, as you are all aware, the reform of health service organisational structures has already begun.

Integrated Learning Philosophy

Yet every new structure, no matter how innovative, requires a solid foundation, the keystone to support the whole, and the health service is no different in this regard. The partnership-based health service of the future will have its foundation in the academic environment in which health care professionals are trained.

Dublin City University has a respected reputation for transcending traditional boundaries. The ethos of the university, which underpins the fundamental principles of each faculty and department, advocates a multidisciplinary approach to learning. Indeed, I note from your website that DCU’s degree programmes were the first to be interdisciplinary in format. It is encouraging to see education emphasised as a reciprocal endeavour, whereby the knowledge and work of each discipline informs and progresses the others. I have no doubt that the medical faculty at DCU will provide a rich, fertile environment for the education and development of health care professionals who will similarly see their professions as part of a larger, collective endeavour.

The impetus towards integration in the health services was a central consideration in the implementation of the new pre-registration nursing degree programme. The transfer of nurse education to the higher education sector serves to position nursing firmly alongside other health service professionals within an academic environment. Nurses and nurse educators now have the opportunity to play a greater role in the academic life of our colleges and to advance nursing through scholarly endeavour.

Degree Programme

The new degree programme offers yet another vital step in the professional development of nursing. It is a further enhancement of the way in which nursing students are prepared for the profession. As such, it is envisaged that it will shape a critical mass of excellent practitioners for the future, nurses with a greater level of theoretical underpinning, which will in turn allow them to develop their clinical skills to a more sophisticated extent, to work both autonomously and in an inter-disciplinary environment, and to respond to future challenges in health care, for the benefit of patients and clients of the health services alike.

In addition to shaping the skills of the future nurse, the degree will also broaden the horizons of the individual. By situating the new degree programme in a higher education system, nurse students will be fully integrated into college life. The modular system in third-level institutions moreover, will grant nursing students the opportunity to study languages, a definite advantage for the health care services as our society becomes ever more multi-cultural and diverse.

Nurse Teachers

I would like to pay particular tribute today to all nurse teachers who have contributed in no small way to the development of the nursing profession. I believe that over 30 nurse teachers have joined the new School of Nursing here in DCU, which now has over 50 multidisciplinary members of staff. These new nurse teachers now find themselves faced with the fresh challenge of a new preparatory programme for nurses. It is envisaged, however, that the implementation of this degree programme will confer benefits not only on the students but also on the teachers and will provide, where desired, the opportunity for further enhancement of the latter’s academic careers. In this regard, I am aware that the School of Nursing here at DCU, with its background of academic excellence, is committed to promoting a strong research ethos and to establishing research as a core activity in Irish nursing.

Nursing Careers

This historic decision, and it is truly historic, will also impact greatly on the careers of the nursing students. With the implementation of the degree programme comes a greater recognition of the level of professionalism attained by qualified nurses. However, the degree must not be thought of as an end in itself, rather it is a gateway to a plethora of careers in health care, in roles as diverse as that of manager, educator, executive, administrator, researcher and specialist. Nursing has already reconfigured itself dramatically in this regard and the creation of the new clinical posts of clinical nurse specialist and advanced nurse practitioner within nursing allows for greater career advancement.

In light of these new career possibilities I wish to impress upon the students who begin their studies here just how much the totality of change is in their hands. With the transformation of their position within the health care sector to that of a professional with the capacity to rise to the highest positions, they themselves have the chance to initiate changes that will make this country a healthier and more equitable place to live.

Partnership

Education and health are now the two pillars upon which the profession of nursing rests. We must continue to build bridges to strengthen this partnership. We must all understand partnerships don’t just happen; they are designed and must be worked at. I have every confidence that the partnership between education and health will prove a long and fruitful one.

Conclusion

We live in a rapidly changing world, one in which nursing can no longer rely on systems of the past to guide it through the new millennium. Pre-registration nurse education must be constantly developed and redesigned to ensure our health care system meets the demands of modern society. Today more than ever the health system is dependent on the resourcefulness of nursing. And nursing, in its turn, is dependent on its resources, on skilled teachers and state of the art facilities, such as those provided by the School of Nursing here at DCU. I have no doubt that the new educational landscape will ensure that nurses of the future will be increasingly innovative, independent and in demand. The strong message sent out by the new education programme is that “nursing really matters”.

Finally I wish all the students the very best of luck as they embark upon this most exciting of challenges.

Thank you.