James Cook University ISSN 1445-6354
Introduction: New Zealand has a rural population with unique healthcare needs. Rural healthcare has been traditionally provided by medical general practitioners (GPs), however as the number of GPs declines , the rural nurse specialist (RNS) role has emerged. The RNS is a registered nurse with advanced nursing skills which enable independent, autonomous practice within rural areas. The health needs of each rural community are specific to that area and the RNS role has been developed according to local health care needs. The purpose of this research was to provide a description of the RNS role in New Zealand.
Methods: A descriptive exploratory approach was used in this qualitative study. The study was conducted in two parts. Phase one consisted of document content analysis of RNS position descriptions and phase two comprised of four semi-structured interviews with RNSs. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. The Modified Strong Model of Advanced Practice  was utilised as a framework for thematic analysis during both phase one and two.
Findings: Rural nurse specialists demonstrated a wide variance in the understanding of the term RNS. The RNS role was found to provide care across a wide range of settings according to local needs. Advanced assessment skills were expected by employers and considered a major component of the role by RNSs. Advanced assessments skills were utilised to enhance communication and thus increase collaboration with other health professionals. The ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with other health professionals was found to be a high priority. However, RNSs perceived that collaboration and thus patient care was affected by a lack of role clarity. The nurse practitioner (NP) role in New Zealand was considered more effective with greater role recognition for the NP. Education was considered essential to maintain advanced assessment skills. RNSs identified providing education in the form of health promotion relevant to local needs as important. There was a lack of information regarding publication and professional leadership, highlighting this as an area for development.
Another issue was the importance of stress management in an isolated area
Conclusions: The RNS role requires advanced knowledge to provide independent patient care. Advanced skills utilised include assessment, diagnosis and treatment of patients. RNSs must have postgraduate education to develop the advanced skills required in this role. RNSs perceive the NP role as having better role clarity, therefore all participants were considering becoming a NP. There are barriers to becoming an NP, thus an expansion of the current RNS role is recommended. Further recommendations from this study include increased professional leadership to improve RNS visibility and further continued interprofessional education to enhance collaboration.