The programme aims to equip students with the competence required of professional nurses who can make a difference The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Nursing - in collaboration with the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital (HKSH) - is launching a master's in nursing, the first of its kind in Hong Kong, to address the city's nursing shortage. According to the Hospital Authority, Hong Kong had a deficit of 418 nurses for the year 2007-08. And that's just the public system, never mind the community nurses and those in private institutions.The course is for people who have a first degree in a non-nursing topic, but would like to have a career in nursing. It is modelled on successful degree programmes in North America, but there are differences. The master's in Hong Kong takes students from basic training to advanced education and those who graduate are eligible to apply for nurse registration with the Nursing Council, which is different from the North American model. Susan Chow Ka-yee, assistant professor at the Polytechnic School of Nursing, said the first intake of 40 students would be in September. 'The programme offers pre-registration nursing education to university graduates from other disciplines who are interested in entering the nursing profession,' she said. 'It aims to equip students with the essential competence required of a professional nurse and to prepare students to acquire the attributes of future nurse leaders through the integration of knowledge and experience.' The master's is a collaborative joint venture with the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital. HKSH will provide clinical training and clinical venues for the students during their three-year course. So, while the Polytechnic University provides students with the academic theory required to ensure that they have the knowledge to become future leaders in nursing, HKSH provides them with the clinical knowledge. During the course, students undertake not less than 1,400 hours in clinical practice. Late last year, HKSH and Polytechnic University had a signing ceremony to announce their partnership for the master's in nursing. When the announcement appeared in newspapers, potential candidates from different backgrounds came forward to express their interest. 'There were candidates with degrees in applied sciences, social sciences, accounting and engineering,' said Dr Chow. 'Some of the students are in their final year of study - they haven't graduated yet, but they know they want to go into nursing. Some of the applicants are working, and some are in their final year of study. 'We treasure their experience and we hope that these students will bring their diversity of background, and knowledge, and that knowledge will allow the nursing industry to expand and develop innovation, because we need their different mindsets. Different ages will also contribute to developing innovation.' Prerequisites for students wishing to apply for the nursing course include a bachelor's degree from a recognised university. Dr Chow said with life expectancy increasing and an ageing population in Hong Kong, there was an increased need for the city to increase its nursing contingent. All of these factors meant there was more demand for nurses in Hong Kong, but 'other than just to produce nurses, we want to produce nurses with higher competency through higher education and then we hope they have the attributes to contribute to the profession', she said. In a caring profession, Dr Chow said it was vital for any applicant that nursing was his or her career goal. 'Of course, the important thing is we look at whether they really want to become a nurse. Their ambition, their career goal and also language proficiency. Do they have a critical mind? They should be conscious about what is happening in society, they should be conscious about what is happening in the health care industry, but nursing should be their career goal,' she said. The course will be taught in English, but applicants need to be able to speak Cantonese in order to communicate with patients. Written Chinese and English is essential. The master's degree in Hong Kong also differs from courses offered in North America as the full-time, self-financed programme teaches students about all areas of nursing. This provides them with a comprehensive grounding in all areas, and allows them the opportunity to decide later in what field they would like to specialise. 'We have the basic training for nurses and higher education of a master's degree - there are some subjects in social sciences, management skills, nursing research projects and also clinical research methods, and these are vital to provide students with clinical decision-making skills and to provide them with evidence-based practice and leader attributes,' said Dr Chow. 'Of course, we don't expect them to start work immediately in a leader job [after graduating], but we would like to develop their leadership skills.'