CHS 20 Years of Democracy Nursing

Prof Hester Klopper on the Future of Professional Healthcare

What does the future hold for nursing? What are the global trends influencing nursing education? And what do those trends mean for healthcare professionals and higher education institutions alike? Those were some of the questions addressed in a discussion hosted by the University of the Western Cape's (UWC) School of Nursing on 17 July 2014.

“We live in a world without borders, where ideas and people move from the North pole to the South pole and back again,” said UWC Extraordinary Professor of Nursing, Hester Klopper, delivering a talk on Global trends influencing nursing and nursing education. “And this is especially true for nurses, at the bedsides of patients. So it's important for us here in South Africa to understand how global trends impact on health.”

Combining South African experience with a global perspective provided by her status as the first South African president of the world's largest international nursing society, the Sigma Theta Tau International Honour Society of Nursing, Prof Klopper discussed a range of topics, from workforce changes to Big Data to the Millennium Development Goals, and more.

One big trend Prof Klopper mentioned was the shift of economic powers, with the rise of the BRICS nations, and especially China (in the last three years, China used as much cement as the US used in the last 200) – and with the financial challenges of the US (which went from a budget deficit of $10 billion to $248 billion  in less than a decade) and Europe (“if Europe won't save Greece, it will be the first bankrupt country in the world”).

But at the same time, these emerging nations suffer from their own problems – most noticeably their struggle to meet the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those pertaining to health. With only a few months to go within which to meet these goals, most nations are not on track – and part of that problem is not having enough healthcare workers, and not providing those healthcare workers with the right kind of training.

Nurses need to know what tools they have at their disposal, Prof Klopper noted, pointing out how Google Trends had used massive amounts of search data to find a simple method to pinpoint regions of H1N1 flu outbreak even before major health organisations.

Prof Klopper highlighted how far South Africa still has to go in terms of meeting research and education needs – while it produces the most research in Africa, the entire continent produces less research than Japan (and the continent also has fewer people with access to education than that nation).

Traditional methods of education wouldn't be capable of reaching enough people to make a difference – information needs to be open and easily accessible for that.

“We see some very interesting developments on electronic platforms at UWC – people employing mobile technology, e-learning, social media,” she said. “Twitter is not just for the latest gossip on the Kardashians; it's a great forum for advocacy, and for interacting with students where they really are, and the same goes for LinkedIn and Facebook.”

But there's more to teaching than electronic media, she added. “If students go into a room and the professor is not teaching anything you can't get on the computer, what's the point? What do our universities have to offer in a world where basic lecture information from Harvard is available online for free?”

Interprofessional education, teaching collaborative learning, and training nurses and other healthcare professionals in how to work together as a team and enhance the work of their fellows would be key. And for that, nurses have a contribution to make.

“So where do we go from here?” Prof Klopper concluded. “When we look to the future, we must realise that it's not just the what that will make the difference, but the how. The time is now for nurses to be at the policy table – to make sure we are informed and can challenge anyone and meet challenges in turn.”

Prof Klopper's seminar formed part of a series of UWC’s Faculty of Community and Health Science’s talks looking at health in South Africa after 20 years of democracy. The series invites health and social sector professionals, educators and researchers to reflect on the ongoing process of transformation in South Africa, and what that means for health and health education.