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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Address to convocation

Dr. Kay Matthews

It is a great honour to be here today with you on your graduation and I have to admit to astonishment at giving the convocation address.

When I arrived in Newfoundland almost 40 years ago I could not have imagined the interesting, exciting career I was to pursue in nursing and the many and varied opportunities for professional development. The graduates here today have earned the right to practice medicine, computer engineering and nursing. However, all of you are facing issues unheard of 40 years ago. So, I would like to share some thoughts with you who are just embarking on your careers.

There has been a technological revolution in health care. More complex treatments require complex care. The new technologies have led to improved outcomes, but they are also associated with more adverse reactions and ethical dilemmas. The use of computer technology, both in the diagnostic technologies and for communication has provided tools to enable physicians make more accurate diagnoses, transfer data quickly from isolated outposts to specialist centers and make sophisticated treatment more available outside major centers. All of these technologies require broad and specific knowledge across the health-related disciplines and inter-professional collaboration to provide the best possible care for clients. Indeed the policy makers are beginning to demand collaboration and are establishing multi-disciplinary committees to determine how this can be achieved. However, true collaboration can only occur when each professional body has a strong sense of its professional autonomy and place within the system.

The evolution of nursing has been the evolution of a mainly female profession. Many early struggles were related to the inequality of women and inter-professional rivalry. The university-based nursing program achieved in Newfoundland and Labrador has been the result of strong leadership by the professional association, careful planning, better educational opportunities for women and above all true collaboration between five provincial schools of Nursing.

As a result, the nursing education system has been revolutionized. The first six baccalaureate nursing graduates in the class of 1966 could not have imagined that within 40 years all registered nurses would require a baccalaureate degree to practice and that postgraduate education at masters and doctoral levels would be well established. At todayís convocation, degrees will be awarded to 132 new graduates of the baccalaureate program, and 23 graduates of the masters program, including two nurse practitioners. Several Memorial University nursing graduates are undertaking or have completed doctoral programs. What a difference this will make to the health care system.

Placing nursing programs within the university has increased the credibility of the profession, strengthened the political influence of nursing and provided the health care system with nurses who have the potential to be leaders and agents for change.

The critical thinking skills developed through courses in the humanities, and social and biological sciences are needed more than ever by physicians and nurses within the complex health care system of this new century. This revolution in nursing education has brought with it opportunities, but with the opportunities have come responsibilities. The impact of the new medical technologies and nursing care strategies on patients and clients need to be evaluated on an on-going basis and clinical competence must be guided by the evidence from research. As well, we must make sure that patients and families have the information to make informed choices to keep healthy and to help themselves heal when they are ill. Above all, caring, the attribute central to nursing, is needed more than ever in this technological age.

The skills you have developed during your programs can be applied nationally and internationally. Faculty and students have been involved in projects in Nicaragua, Belize, Vietnam, Indonesia, Guatemala and Africa. Students have come to Memorial from Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia and many other countries. Today, especially, we congratulate the group of students from China who have completed the Masters in Applied Science. Their influence will be felt in their own country and throughout the world. Those of us fortunate enough to have been involved in the health care systems of less fortunate countries recognize the disparity in health care between rich and poor and the difficulties created for our professional colleagues in those countries by lack of resources. We value the health care system in Canada in which no mother dies in childbirth through lack of access to professional care, or an inability to pay.

Enjoy today, for the work starts tomorrow. With the research evidence as your armour, be radical. Do not accept the status quo. Always ask the question: How can this be done better? Be politically active in your professional associations and your unions and be knowledgeable about the issues involved in the delivery of health care. Above all, support and protect the Canada Health Actís core principles which are universal access to, and equality in, health care. These principles are under threat from certain political ideologies in Canada and by corporate interests, often from the South.

Today I have had the honour of receiving an honorary degree. However, no one achieves this on their own and as I look back on almost 50 years in nursing and midwifery, I realize I was privileged throughout my career to care for mothers and their families who influenced my approach to maternity care. I had excellent teachers, exemplary clinical and academic colleagues, supportive administrators and, above all, a patient and loving family. This honour is shared with all of them.

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