Are you considering continuing education to accelerate your healthcare career? Perhaps you’re looking to upskill to gain further qualifications in your existing role for additional salary or responsibilities.
You may be wanting to advance in your career or specialise. If your specialisation is in an area of high demand or in low supply, it could also lead to a higher salary. In addition, as a qualified, experienced health or social care professional, opportunities exist to move into a different role or change career track altogether, for example, into management, public health, psychology or clinical trial management.
The pandemic has led to huge changes and opportunities in the job market, particularly in healthcare jobs, in what has been termed the ‘Great Resignation.’ Continuing education can give you the skills to take advantage of these opportunities and further your career.
Postgraduate study allows you to specialise and is important to a healthcare career because it can lead to an increased salary, leadership opportunities and greater skills to improve health outcomes. It’s valuable, flexible, and will give you immediately applicable skills in your healthcare career. Postgraduate study sits alongside healthcare Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which consists of short courses that provide knowledge, skills and expertise for the purpose of improving your professional capabilities.
There has never been a better time to improve your healthcare career prospects. Let’s explore your continuing education options to see where your career can go.
The importance of CPD in health care
Healthcare professionals are required to undertake regular CPD education to maintain and improve their professional registration. Each healthcare specialty has its own CPD requirements and board to oversee them.
In health care, CPD education ensures that you maintain relevance and competence in your profession. It allows you to stay on top of and become knowledgeable in new developments such as professional guidelines, patient care and new information, systems and treatments.
This is important because health care is informed and continuously improved by the evidence base, which changes with new information and technologies. That’s why CPD is an ongoing process throughout your career.
According to Lucy Lehane, ACHS Improvement Academy, Clinical Educator: “Nurses have to do a certain amount of CPD every year. So, to be registered, you have to do it. But even if we didn't have that requirement, it's just such an important part of being a health professional. Because you can't stand still – the science and technology are constantly changing and developing. And to practice at the highest level, you need to be up to date and informed, and CPD enables you to do that, to be constantly developing your knowledge and staying in touch with national and international development, so that you can attribute that to your role and to the patients that you're caring for.”
CPD Standards for nurses
The NMBA Registration Standard: Continuing Professional Development (NMBA, accessed 4 June 2022) sets out the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia’s (NMBA) minimum CPD requirements for enrolled nurses, registered nurses and midwives. According to these standards, Australian nurses and midwives must participate in at least 20 hours of CPD each year that is relevant to their practice. In addition:
- One hour of active learning must equal one hour of CPD
- Nurses and midwives must keep written documentation of their CPD that demonstrates their evidence of completion of a minimum of 20 hours of CPD per year. This documentation must be kept for a period of five years
- Participation in mandatory skills acquisition and training can be counted as CPD.
CPD Standards for Psychologists
The Continuing professional development registration standard and Guidelines for continuing professional development (AHPRA, accessed 4 June 2022) sets out the CPD requirements for Australian psychologists. According to these standards, Australian psychologists must complete 10 hours of peer consultation activities and 20 hours of other CPD activities annually. In addition:
• Psychologists must keep written documentation of their CPD that includes a self-developed learning plan based on self-assessment, an activity log, and a reflection
• This CPD portfolio must be submitted to AHPRA within 28 days if selected for audit.
What are postgraduate studies in health?
Postgraduate degrees are specialised university qualifications that are undertaken after an undergraduate degree. You might undertake a postgraduate degree for many reasons, such as to move into academia or research or embark on a new career path altogether.
Postgraduate degrees include a variety of qualifications, including masters, graduate diplomas, graduate certificates and PhDs. Today, postgraduate degrees are flexible and manageable. Many are offered online or partly online to allow you to study in your own time, when it suits you and your schedule.
Common pathways for nurses include nursing education, mental health, health management and public health. Psychologists can look to specialise in many areas such as organisations, community work or developmental and educational areas.
Lucy Lehane says “My early post-grad studies, so the graduate certificate in critical care, deepened my knowledge, gave me confidence and developed my academic skills – my written and spoken communication, I guess. It's been very important. And the master's in public health expanded my thinking and really deepened my knowledge of public health. And, certainly in a practical sense, if you're applying for jobs, it really does help.”
There are many new and exciting topics offered in post graduate master’s in nursing and psychology that cover a range of areas. These include: Master of Professional Psychology, Master of Organisational Psychology, Master of Clinical Psychology (Defence), Master of Nursing (aged care), Master of Healthcare Leadership and Master of Advanced Nursing.
A graduate certificate is a short, focused qualification in one focus area that is usually taken over one semester full time.
A graduate diploma builds on a graduate certificate and allows you to further your knowledge in one focus area that is usually taken over two semesters full time.
A master’s degree is an advanced qualification that creates high-level knowledge and skills in a professional area and typically takes one-to-two years of full-time study. All master’s degrees include a research component – important skills to either acquire or brush up on, particularly if you completed your bachelor’s degree some time ago. If research is a top priority for you, you can choose to take on a master’s by research.
A master’s can be tailored to different pathways, for instance specialising in advanced practice, psychology, management or education. And while a master’s degree is a rigorous study option, you can also begin your study with a grad dip or grad cert and then continue on.
A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest qualification on the Australian Qualifications Framework. A PhD is a comprehensive, supervised research program resulting in a thesis that contributes to the knowledge base of your chosen topic. A PhD typically take three-to-four years to complete full time.
Relationship between CPD and postgraduate study
Both CPD and postgraduate study equip you with new skills to further or change your healthcare career path, potentially command a higher salary and move into new or more senior roles.
Postgraduate courses require undergraduate study of a bachelor’s degree or in certain cases, equivalent work experience. What you learn in postgraduate study can complement CPD requirements and in some cases – where study is related to your current career – may even contribute to your professional CPD achievements.
Many universities offer excellent online postgraduate courses, which are an attractive way to fit in continuing education with your busy schedule. Online courses are just as community-oriented and academically rigorous as face-to-face learning with the benefit of flexibility and manageability for busy working professionals.
Who should consider postgraduate study in healthcare?
Postgraduate study is the key to reaching your potential in your healthcare career and seizing the new opportunities in the post-COVID job market. If you’re considering adding to your existing qualifications, specialising, or moving into another area of health altogether, post graduate study will enable you to achieve your goals.
To get started, you can view different postgraduate offerings from a selection of Australian Universities by searching by speciality or category.