EGYPT: Ailing nursing colleges promised rescue

With Egypt's nursing education system in crisis, the country's education authorities recently revealed plans for upgrading. The myriad challenges to be addressed include poorly resourced colleges, outdated curricula, low levels of English language comprehension among students and lack of practical training opportunities.

Basma Hassan is one of around 15,000 students attending 18 state-run nursing colleges in Egypt. On applying to attend nursing college four years ago, she assumed she would be a well-qualified nurse with a bright future career.

Today she feels disappointed. "The subjects we study are tedious and of no practical use," she said. "There is no attention to promoting our nursing skills and command of English. The teaching staff are merely focusing on cramming our minds with theoretical bits of information."

Two years ago, studies at these institutions were extended from three years to five with the declared aim of enhancing students' English language skills.

Said fourth-year student, Mervat Mansour: "This aim remains elusive. We do not study English in the first three years of education. And when we do in the fourth year, we are unable to comprehend medical terminology."

She also complained about lack of practical studies. "When we are sent to hospitals for training, we do not get enough cooperation from doctors - apparently because they traditionally do not have a good view of nurses, like the rest of society. Meanwhile, senior nurses in those hospitals manipulate us into running errands and doing jobs that have nothing to do with nursing."

To Dr Azza Abdel Gawad, a medical professor at Egypt's second largest public university, Ain Shams, nursing college curricula desperately need developing in order to cope with the latest medical knowledge.

"In addition, it is necessary to boost the medical culture of nurses, whose knowledge is limited to primary information. For example, they need to know that they have to care for patients' social backgrounds, not merely their physical health, in order to ensure that integrated health care is provided," she argued.

Drawing on her teaching experience, Abdel Gawad said she was shocked at the inability of nursing students to communicate in spoken and written English. "We should intensify teaching English to them from the first year at college."

Recently the woes of nursing education were the focus of a meeting of the Supreme Council of Universities, which supervises academic education in Egypt. Admitting to low standards of current nursing education, Dr Ferial Abdel Aziz, who heads the council's nursing sector, disclosed a plan to upgrade the system in order to qualify competent nurses.

"Our plan focuses on increasing specialised information and expanding practical training for nursing students," she told the press. "More attention will also be given to grooming teaching staff for these colleges in order to make them better capable of doing the job."

According to Abdel Aziz, a suggestion being considered is to oblige nursing graduates to take tests every year or two to assess their skills and update their medical information, before their licences are renewed.

She added that there would also be more interest in and allocations for renovating infrastructure and facilities, including laboratories and medical digital libraries, at nursing colleges: "We firmly believe that developing nursing colleges should start with providing a better educational environment."