The health sector in Australia is rapidly expanding, owing to the expanding health care needs, the growing population, and the increasing number of informed patients (Loney et al. 2013). Hence, there is a need for continuous training and development of healthcare personnel, specifically nurses and midwives, through a practical evidence-based curriculum. Such a curriculum should be anchored on outcome-based approaches supported by nursing theory and benchmarks. It should allow nurses and midwives to continue sharpening their skills and knowledge through learning and education.
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One must know the extent or degree of attainment of intended outcomes for a curriculum. In other words, the right knowledge among health workers is essential in facilitating decision-making that supports safety programs and initiatives in health facilities. This situation calls for the need for a framework that can enhance the educators’ judgment when developing or adjusting assessments. This paper adopts Bearman et al.’s (2016) Assessment Design Decisions Framework. The rationale behind the choice of the framework is that it offers a platform for occupational health experts to adopt the best decisions when establishing an assessment plan. However, the main task of this paper entails designing a curriculum whose objective is to produce competent, confident, and highly compassionate occupational health nurses who are ready to meet the challenges of the Australian healthcare environment. However, the integration of an assessment framework facilitates the adjustment and attainment of new knowledge that can guarantee better outcomes in the various work environments where occupational nurses are employed.
The curriculum will be delivered through systematic knowledge-based lectures that will involve direct interactions between tutors and students or experienced occupational nurses and students. The above model of delivery is founded on the fact that occupational health nurses require a well-developed practical knowledge base and a specialized set of skills, which they deploy during health promotion and when assessing risks in a given work setting (Parkay, Anctil & Hass 2014; Boud & Soler 2016). The tutor-student and occupational nurse-student interactions will take place in class and work settings. The work setting will be reflective of areas where students who successfully complete the course would work. While the class setting will establish the theoretical foundation set of skills and knowledge, the practical environment will foster the actual implementation of the class-acquired skills and knowledge by way of watching, active involvement, and taking directions under the superintendence and control of an experienced occupational health nurse in the work environment. Units or modules will form the structure of the curriculum.
The course duration is set in a manner that upon successful completion, students can achieve the set learning outcomes, the relevant nursing qualifications, awards, and competences. This process will take 40 weeks. Each week will have 30 hours. Hence, the entire course will take a learner 1200 hours to be completed.
Regarding eligibility, students or the course participants will be comprised of nurses who have qualified and successfully graduated from recognized and accredited nursing and midwifery training institutions in Australia or a World Health Organisation (WHO) member country. The WHO member nations have established standard frameworks that guide the training and work of nurses (Landsbergis, Grzywacz & LaMontagne 2014). Australia commits to the standards. Therefore, accepting students from such nations only prevents the admission of nurses whose background training does not follow similar standards. All eligible participants must have a post-qualified experience of not less than two years.
Concerning the content, the curriculum will have seven modules. Successful completion of the course will require a nurse student to pass in all the modules. However, those who fail in certain modules can apply for re-takes. In this case, the students’ final certificate or award will show that such modules took double the number of hours required to complete them without the re-take. All the modules will emphasize the necessary knowledge and skills appropriate for the development of competent, reflective, confident, and considerate occupational health nurses.
Philosophy or Course Description
This curriculum acknowledges the critical role of occupational health nurses. It upholds the role of incorporating theory and practice in line with Lee et al.’s (2013) emphasis on the capacity of a theoretical framework in the nursing field. Hence, it offers a well-established knowledge base that can ensure that this group of healthcare providers gets the required expertise and competency in managing occupational hazards in the healthcare environment (Keating 2014). Such competency includes knowledge, as well as specialist skills in health promotion and risk assessment that is relevant to a given area of work in a healthcare setting (Van Hoorn et al. 2014). The curriculum is also founded on the belief that experience among the respective staff is key in enhancing the best healthcare outcomes. Besides, the curriculum acknowledges the application of evidence-based practice among occupational health nurses.
Aim of the Course
The curriculum aims at:
- Producing occupational health nurses who can demonstrate their intellectual capability in applying evidence-based approaches to occupational risk assessment, the development of intervention strategies, and strategy implementation
- Providing an educational framework to influence students to acquire skills of critical awareness and analysis to stimulate creativity in theory development and occupational health practice
Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for the Course
Upon successful completion of the course, it is expected that learners will be able to:
- Participate effectively in various aspects related to occupational health nursing such as:
- Safety and health surveillance
- Prevention of accidents
- Risk assessment
- Maintain flawless and timely completion of various nursing-related documents
- Identify the need to provide the necessary support for people working in the organization or the work setting where an occupational nurse is employed.
- Offer leadership that is appropriate for a particular context depending on the occupational health requirements in Australia or work setting and supported by the understanding and recognition of occupational safety risks and health concerns
- Maintain accurate databases relating to national legislation coupled with policies that are relevant to a given work setting
Assessment Activities (and Marking Plan) to Evidence the Achievement of the ILOs
Students who will complete the course must submit three assessments with an aggregate total of 100 points. Bearman et al.’s (2016) Assessment Design Decisions Framework identify purpose, learning outcomes, tasks, and contexts as critical aspects that any assessment approach should possess. The three assessment tasks identified below reflect on the aspects.
- Two continuous assessments tests (CAT) for each module
The first one will be completed at the end of the 15th week while the second will be completed at the end of the 30th week. Each CAT has a maximum of 10 points
- One main written exam worthy 40 points for each module at the end of the 40th week
- Research paper based on occupational health issues and problems in Australia
The paper will be submitted one week after the main exam. It is worth 40 points
Teaching Strategies to Enable Requisite Learning
The course requires highly practical skills and knowledge that will be applied in real-life healthcare situations. To facilitate the best outcomes, the course will apply various teaching strategies as follows:
- Active student participation through discussions, group work, and mentors will allow learners to actively engage with others in the learning process
- Lectures will be a significant part of the teaching process in the course, especially when it comes to parting theoretical knowledge relevant to the desired course objectives
- Reflection will be an important strategy that will be applied where students are required to keep a journal/diary for the duration of the course
Report/Discussion of the Curriculum Plan
The curriculum designed in this document embraces various educational principles. For instance, it upholds the need for students to realize that their perceptions regarding intellect can influence their cognitive functions and education capacities. This principle is reflected in the case where learners are encouraged to be actively engaged in group-work discussions as a way of learning from each other and finally learning to deliver well-thought-out contents independently. The written curriculum for the current course establishes a set of learning outcomes designated as the acceptable minimum for successful completion of the occupational health course. Coming up with the written curriculum will require close cooperation between nursing tutors and the Australian government’s educational framework since the curriculum should be in line with what the government stipulates as the standard teaching practices for nurses and midwives. Hence, the incorporation of lectures in the curriculum is meant to uphold the principle that what learners know can determine their learning.
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Since some learners already enter lecture halls with some preconceptions about the content to be delivered, such knowledge may be consistent or inconsistent with what is to be delivered to them. As a result, the role of the tutors in erasing or enhancing such preconceptions is well captured in the current curriculum. As the health needs expand, the curriculum factors in the fact that the role of nurses and midwives in the country will continue to grow to meet the demand by adequately guaranteeing high-quality healthcare service delivery to all. This nurse/midwife’s involvement in healthcare delivery is founded on the principle that obtaining permanent knowledge and expertise is entirely founded on practice. As a result, the taught curriculum forms an important component of the successful program, which entails flexible instructions and processes that tutors use in their endeavor to achieve the objectives of the written syllabus (Flowerdew 2012). To ensure that the taught curriculum is triumphant, it will be important to facilitate continued learning for trainers who are highly qualified in occupational health as identified by the country’s syllabus framework.
One of the ways, which the curriculum designed here, applies to assess the students will be through sit-in exams. The curriculum accomplishes this evaluation in two stages, namely, continuous assessment tests and the main exam. Knowledge is continuously developed. An attempt to use the main sit-in exam as the only assessment tool violates this principle. It suggests an error in assessment, hence implying the existence of an instance where one would consider knowledge and skills to have fully developed (Boud & Soler 2016). As such, the curriculum designed applies continuous tests as part of other necessary assessment tools that enable tutors to track students’ ability to absorb information and/or apply it to real occupational health contexts ((Pinar 2013; Billings & Halstead 2015).
Assessment is an important process of any effective curriculum. Parkay, Anctil, and Hass (2014) assert that it provides a framework for determining how the outcomes of the course will be measured. Without it, it is impossible to know whether the course is achieving its objectives (Van Hoorn et al. 2014). The current curriculum document ensures that students develop the capacity to solve real occupational health challenges encountered in their careers. It provides an opportunity for students’ assessment to gauge their ability to use theories and evidence-based approaches to resolve occupational health issues in their work environments.
Curriculum principles form a significant part of any learning framework (Billings & Halstead 2015). This claim is also applicable to the current curriculum on occupational health learning in Australia. From the work of Iwasiw and Goldenberg (2014), the design, implementation, and maintenance of the curriculum are guided by several principles, which include:
- The curriculum (written, taught, and tested) presents the framework for imparting knowledge on occupational health in healthcare and medical facilities
- The curriculum discussed fosters active learning
In the current course, the instructional principles of the curriculum are as follows:
- The curriculum is based on the understanding that teaching and learning process implementation presents the best opportunity for student achievement
- Lecturers or instructors are encouraged to apply creativity and flexibility in the process of teaching while considerate of the occupational health situations in the country
- Lecturers have the responsibility to follow faithfully the curriculum to guarantee the attainment of the expected outcomes after successful completion of the course
- The instructional process requires adequate preparation of lecturers/instructors to provide high-standard teaching to the learners
- Learners are responsible for their learning. In this case, while lecturers will provide adequate background knowledge and guidance, learners must take a proactive role in learning and grasping the required knowledge and skills
According to Iwasiw and Goldenberg (2014), the above principles aim at enhancing the learning process to ensure:
- The identification of gaps in student learning processes
- Understand the impact of the curriculum design, instruction, and evaluation on learners
- Measure the students’ achievement during and at the end of the course
- Guide the student learning process
Lastly, the management of the curriculum is an important process that will enable the successful implementation of occupational health continuing education in Australia (Laberge, MacEachen & Calvet 2014). The successful administration of the curriculum will uphold the management of the institutions/campuses where the process of learning and teaching takes place continuously, including the development of relevant documents and a working knowledge of the subjects in the course. Continued education and learning form an area of great importance to any healthcare system across the world (Moorhead et al. 2014). As such, the institutions will also offer support for trainers in the use of data and information towards improvement in instruction. Further, besides providing room for meetings, consultations, and other necessary support activities for trainers towards adequate teaching for the best outcomes, the institution will offer an enabling environment where trainers can access and participate in research-based professional activities for the development of their knowledge and skills necessary for teaching. Finally, it will pave the way for campus-based learning and training opportunities for lecturers.
Reflection of Learning from Doing the Project
The undertaking of this project was very insightful. It offered important lessons relating to curriculum development. For instance, the project has provided insights that curriculum development initiates with the identification of needs or a problem in a particular professional field. In Australia, the need emanates from the fact that occupational health nursing is in its early developmental phase. The project has clarified the importance of setting aims, specific goals, outcomes, and teaching strategies, including the modalities of curriculum design and assessment.
The curriculum development process requires an in-depth understanding of the knowledge gaps that exist in an area of interest in a specific society. Despite the progress in financial and technological investment in nursing as identified by Billings and Halstead (2015), opportunities for continuous improvement are always present due to the changing demographics, health needs, and technologies in the sector. Caplan et al. (2014) acknowledge the crucial role that technology is playing in the health sector in terms of the way lectures are currently being delivered via the Internet, as opposed to the conventional approach of having a physical tutor presenting course materials to learners. This argument poses a question to my learning. Should the delivery mode discussed in the curriculum integrate technologies such as the Internet rather than relying only on the discussed conventional approaches?
Evidently, from the discussion, the occupational health segment in this country is still growing. Hence, a proposed curriculum in occupational health nursing will also demand changes to ensure more integration of students’ learning needs and consistency with new technological advancements. Nevertheless, the current curriculum is timely in providing updated and relevant knowledge, skills, and competencies that are required in the country.
Secondly, a curriculum development process should guarantee the realization of the needs of the targeted students. The curriculum should meet certain outcomes that reflect the nature of work undertaken by those who successfully undergo the process (Loke & Fung 2014). In the context of the current curriculum, an important insight arises that the work of occupational nursing cannot be successfully done without the party being competent in risk assessments and/or being able to make effective and practical clinical decisions and judgments promptly (Loveday et al. 2014). Occupational nurses spend their time in a work environment where injuries are likely to occur. Therefore, they must make urgent decisions on the appropriate mechanisms that are necessary to alleviate pain and excessive suffering before those who are hurt can receive more specialized care. This concept comes out clearly in the development of the current curriculum since learning outcomes emphasize occupational nurses’ anticipated role in enhancing and promoting safety and a healthy work environment.
The other important lesson from the curriculum development process is the design of the assessment approaches that allow students to be assessed on their ability relating to knowledge and skills acquisition in the course (Lee et al. 2013). In the healthcare sector, such assessments are pivotal since the nature of the work is highly sensitive to the extent that minor mistakes can be very costly.
The above curriculum development has offered guidelines and a framework for continued learning for occupational health practitioners in Australia. The health sector in the country is changing rapidly. With it, the need to provide a safe working environment for healthcare professionals has increased drastically. Errors and mistakes in the healthcare sector are very costly. Hence, they can lead to long-term injuries and even death to patients. Hence, the role of occupational health in the workplace is to provide a working environment that ensures that employees (nurses) are satisfied, safe, and able to deliver quality services to patients.
However, providing a safe working environment is an important step towards improving health outcomes in the Australian facilities. The curriculum document presents a framework that marks an ongoing effort that once fully developed will boost occupational health practitioners in Australia. As discussed, the curriculum will focus on providing relevant knowledge and skills that will improve the decision-making and problem-solving capabilities of the practitioners. The curriculum also sets the assessment approaches and other principles that will guarantee its successful implementation in this country. Due to its sensitive nature, the healthcare field is highly regulated in Australia. As such, the curriculum is very timely in offering an excellent opportunity for the development of skills for occupational health practitioners in Australia. The lessons learned in the development of this project provided an experience that will be useful in the designing of future curriculums in the field of nursing and health. Overall, the curriculum is expected to enhance service delivery among occupational health officers in this country.
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