About nurses and midwives

Australian law protects the nursing and midwifery titles. Learn what nurses and midwives do, what you need to do to become one, and what the different titles mean.

What a nurse is

Nurses are essential health professionals who care for people (individuals, families, groups and communities) in all health and aged care settings. Nurses are the facilitators of the health and care systems and possess the qualifications, knowledge and skills to provide high quality care where and when it is needed.

Together, nurses and midwives make up more than half of Australia’s health workforce - and almost 90 per cent are women.

In Australia, a nurse is a regulated health professional.  Nurses complete  approved training pathways to become registered to practice with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA).

The NMBA works with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency to regulate the nursing profession.

People must register with the NMBA before they can use any of the following protected titles to describe themselves:

  • enrolled nurse
  • registered nurse
  • nurse practitioner.

Nurses work with many other health professionals in the public and private health sectors. Settings where nurses work include:

  • public hospitals
  • private hospitals
  • aged care (both residential and home)
  • primary care practices including general practice
  • community health services
  • schools
  • correctional facilities
  • rural and remote communities
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services

Types of nurses in Australia

There are several different types of nurses in Australia. The main differences involve the type of training they have done and their scope of practice.

Enrolled nurse

There are more than 54,100 enrolled nurses in Australia.

Enrolled nurses (ENs) complete a Diploma of Nursing through a vocational education provider, to meet the EN standards for practice. ENs work under the supervision of a registered nurse and cannot act alone. Typical duties include:

  • regularly recording patients’ temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respiration
  • providing interventions, treatments and therapies from patient care plans (including administering medicines)
  • assisting registered nurses and other team members with health education activities
  • working in multidisciplinary teams; and
  • helping patients with their activities of daily living.

An enrolled nurse can become a registered nurse by completing further education.

Registered nurse

There are more than 303,000 registered nurses in Australia.

Registered nurses (RNs) complete a 3-year Bachelor of Nursing or 2-year Master of Nursing through a university to meet the RN standards for practice. They have more responsibilities than an EN, and their scope of practice can include:

  • assessing patients
  • developing a nursing care plan
  • administering medicines
  • providing specialised nursing care
  • working in multidisciplinary teams
  • supervising ENs and junior RNs
  • undertaking regular professional development
  • performing leadership and management roles such as being a nursing unit manager or team leader
  • working in advanced nursing practice roles.

Nurse practitioner

There are more than 2,200 nurse practitioners in Australia.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are RNs who the NMBA have endorsed as an NP. NPs practice independently in an advanced and extended clinical role, and can prescribe some medicines.

To be eligible for an NP endorsement, a nurse must:

  • be a registered nurse with no restrictions on practice
  • have 5,000 hours of experience at the advanced clinical nursing practice level in the past 6 years 
  • have completed an approved program of study at a master degree level, and
  • comply with the NMBA’s nurse practitioner standards for practice.

State and territory governments employ most NPs in acute care settings. Private settings also employ NPs, either as employees or in their own practice.

What a midwife is

A midwife is a registered health professional who works in partnership with women to give the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks after birth. Midwifery is a profession grounded in woman-centred and evidence-based maternal health care – with midwives being an integral part of maternity care in Australia, caring for almost 300,000 women each year.  

In Australia, midwives must have completed an approved course in midwifery through a university and register with the NMBA. The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law protects the titles of ‘midwife’ and ‘midwife practitioner’. A midwife is not the same as a doula.

A midwife’s scope of practice includes:

  • providing health support, care and advice to women before conception, and during pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period
  • promoting natural childbirth and identifying complications for the woman and her baby
  • consulting with other health professionals and referring to medical care or other health professions when required
  • implementing emergency measures.

Midwives are autonomous practitioners who work collaboratively with many other health professionals. A midwife may practice in any setting including the home, community, public and private hospitals, birth centres, clinics or health units including Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

Endorsed midwife

An endorsed midwife has done extra training and can prescribe certain medications.

To become an endorsed midwife, a registered midwife must:

  • meet the registration standards
  • successfully complete an NMBA-approved program of study that leads to an endorsement for scheduled medicines, or a substantially equivalent program as determined by the NMBA
  • register as a midwife in Australia without conditions or unsatisfactory performance
  • complete the equivalent of 3 years full-time clinical practice (5,000 hours) in the past 6 years. Completed hours can be across the full continuity of midwifery care or in a specified context of practice. Recognised contexts of practice include antenatal, postnatal and antenatal and postnatal combined.

You can check a nurse’s or midwife’s registration by searching the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia’s national register.

Date last updated:

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