A new course jointly run by Polytechnic University (PolyU) and the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital looks set to raise the profile of nursing in the city and help deal with the shortage of nurses in hospitals here. And the good news is that the master in nursing course is open to anyone who may be in a different profession and even to those who have no experience in the field. 'This new programme allows students from non-health disciplines to apply for the course,' said Susan Chow Ka-yee, assistant professor at PolyU and programme leader of the master in nursing. The programme, which took its first intake of 28 students last September, is unique in Hong Kong in that it is the only master's level course in nursing that is a pre-registration course. In other words, students who are not registered nurses can apply. Dr Chow explained that it was not uncommon for people to want to change profession and go into nursing. Many students enrolled in the course come from backgrounds ranging from information technology, design and engineering to modern languages. 'This is a great advantage to the industry,' she said. 'Because students come with a variety of backgrounds and knowledge, it provides an opportunity for the nursing [profession] to expand and develop innovation.' The course is only available in full-time mode and takes three years to complete. Students are expected to gain 96 credits over these years. 'As the course has to be run in line with requirements outlined by the Nursing Council of Hong Kong, students also need to complete at least 1,400 hours of hands-on clinical practice over the three years. 'The classroom learning also complies with the requirements of the nursing council,' Dr Chow said. The course covers all theoretical components required for registration with the Nursing Council of Hong Kong, and is accredited by the council. It covers child and adult care, maternal care, mental health nursing, community nursing, gerontological nursing and nursing research, among other subjects. Alongside the practical experience taught, students also learn management techniques and skills. The programme took more than 18 months in the planning, and is the first course that PolyU has offered in conjunction with a hospital. Manbo Man Bo-lin is the director of nursing services at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, and it was her visit to the Yale School of Nursing in the United States that inspired the hospital to look into starting the master in nursing course. 'I found that the kind of master's programmes they were running were successful,' Ms Man said. 'I sat in their lectures and talked with the students who were similar to our students now in that their first degrees were not in nursing.' Ms Man explained that the students on the course had found it useful so far. The most important thing, she noted, was that the majority of them were mature students and could relate their life experience to the nursing profession. 'We need people with good communicative skills and people who show empathy towards their patients. These students seem to have that,' she said. For anyone thinking of applying for the course, the three-year full-time mode may seem daunting, especially as it may be difficult to finance such a long stretch of full-time study. Help is at hand though through a scholarship programme offered by the hospital. 'We found that some people taking the course may have financial difficulties with the tuition fees,' Ms Man said of the HK$210,000 course. 'So we introduced the scholarships to help with this.' Unlike traditional scholarships, the ones offered by the hospital are not means tested. Instead, they are offered in accordance with each student's performance in their previous undergraduate degrees and subsequent performance when they get accepted to the course. 'We offer a part-scholarship [worth HK$25,000] for any student joining us who got a grade point average [GPA] of 2.5 or higher in their undergraduate degree,' Ms Man explained. 'If in their second year of the course they come top of the class, we give them a scholarship of HK$80,000, and second and third in class get HK$70,000 and HK$60,000 respectively.' She added that the scholarships were designed to help students focus on studies rather than having to take up part-time jobs to sustain them during the course. Changing career is a decision that should not be taken lightly, and Dr Chow explained that the first thing anyone thinking of applying for the course should ask themselves was, 'do I really want to be a nurse'? 'Potential students shouldn't just want to change jobs,' Dr Chow said. 'They should ask themselves what their real career ambitions are, what their goals in life are, and if they really are the compassionate type. They also need to have a critical mind.' The university expects to recruit about 40 students in the next intake this September. Prerequisites for the course are a degree from a recognised institution and good results from the HKCEE. 'After graduating, students are able to work in hospitals and health care settings in the public and private sector,' Dr Chow said.