What a nurse is
Nurses are essential health professionals who care for people (individuals, families, groups and communities) in all health care settings.
In Australia, nurses are regulated health professionals who go through 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 (Ahpra) to regulate the nursing profession.
People must be registered with the NMBA before they can use any of the following protected titles to describe themselves:
- enrolled nurse
- registered nurse
- nurse practitioner.
You can check if a nurse is registered by searching the national register of nurses and midwives registered with the NMBA.
Nurses work with many other health professionals in the public or private health sectors. Settings where nurses work include:
- public hospitals
- private hospitals
- emergency care
- aged care
- general practice clinics
- community health services
- rural and remote communities.
Types of nurse in Australia
There are several different types of nurse in Australia. The main differences involve the type of training they have done and their scope of practice.
Enrolled nurses (ENs) complete a 2-year 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, respiration and so on
- providing interventions, treatments and therapies from patient care plans
- assisting registered nurses and other team members with health education activities
- helping patients with their activities of daily life.
An enrolled nurse can become a registered nurse by doing further training.
Registered nurses (RNs) complete a 3-year Bachelor 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 medicine
- providing specialised nursing care
- working in multidisciplinary teams
- supervising ENs and junior RNs
- undertaking regular professional development
- performing leadership roles such as nursing unit manager or team leader.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are RNs who have been endorsed as an NP by the NMBA. 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 within the past 6 years
- have completed an approved program of study at a master degree level
- comply with the NMBA’s nurse practitioner standards for practice.
Most NPs are employed by state and territory governments in acute care settings. NPs are also employed in private settings, either as an employee or in their own practice.
What a midwife is
Midwives are registered health professionals who care for women’s health and wellbeing during pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks after birth.
In Australia, midwives must have completed an approved course in midwifery through a university and be registered with the NMBA. The titles ‘midwife’ and ‘midwife practitioner’ are protected under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. 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 appropriate assistance when required
- implementing emergency measures.
An endorsed midwife has done additional training and can prescribe certain medications.
To become an endorsed midwife, a registered midwife must:
- meet the registration standards
- have successfully completed an NMBA-approved program of study that leads to an endorsement for scheduled medicines, or a substantially equivalent program as determined by the NMBA
- be currently registered as a midwife in Australia without conditions or unsatisfactory performance
- have completed the equivalent of 3 years full-time clinical practice (that is, 5,000 hours) within the past 6 years across the full continuity of midwifery care or within a specified context of practice. Recognised contexts of practice include antenatal, postnatal and ante and postnatal combined.
You can check if a midwife is registered by searching the national register of nurses and midwives registered with the NMBA.