Why the journey to become an enrolled nurse cannot be completed online and may not be worth it.
A Diploma of Nursing is the qualification you need to become an enrolled nurse (EN) in Australia. Typically taking 18-24 months of full-time study, this course is essentially open to anyone. After graduating, you can apply to practise as an EN.
Students learn essential nursing skills, such as how to administer medication, assess health, and care for diverse clients. The course emphasises practical experience under registered nurse (RN) supervision. You also work on communication skills, learn about legal and ethical aspects of nursing, and study anatomy and physiology.
"Online" programs are available from TAFEs, colleges, and universities. However, these courses may better be described as mixed-mode study or distance education. They do involve some attendance, such as occasional residential schools. And all approved programs must include clinical placements in healthcare facilities.
Can You Study a Diploma of Nursing Online?
No, you cannot study for a Diploma of Nursing fully online due to the need for hands-on training and clinical placements. EN students participate in simulation activities on campus to physically learn clinical techniques. They also complete 400+ hours of work placements in varied settings (NMBA Fact Sheet).
- Clinical simulations on campus. Clinical simulations require in-person attendance at campus facilities. These activities are typically organised into 2-3 multi-day instruction blocks in simulation labs. The practical training helps students learn essential clinical skills.
- Experience in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. Every aspiring EN must also gain at least 400 hours of work experience in varied healthcare environments. The placements are not geographically restricted and can potentially be completed at healthcare facilities near where the student lives.
The theoretical aspects of the diploma may be delivered online or through distance education. When this is the case, education providers might describe their course as "online." However, the essential hands-on clinical experiences must be done in person and cannot be replicated virtually.
What You'll Learn
The purpose of a Diploma of Nursing is to learn how to deliver nursing care under the broad guidance of RNs. You'll develop practical clinical skills, including the ability to administer and monitor medication, conduct health assessments, and provide personalised care to clients with varying health needs. Additionally, students enhance their teamwork and communication skills, while acquiring basic medical knowledge essential for healthcare professionals.
20 core subjects from the 25-unit program
The fast-paced program consists of 25 units, including 20 core units and 5 electives. The core subjects cover four learning areas that provide a mixture of communication and cultural competence, fundamental nursing practices, specialised skills for varied patient needs, and professional practice and safety protocols.
1. Communication and cultural competence
- Work with diverse people
- Promote Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander cultural safety
- Apply communication skills in nursing practice
2. Clinical skills and basic patient care
- Confirm physical health status
- Analyse and respond to client health information
- Perform clinical assessment & contribute to planning care
- Implement, monitor and evaluate nursing care
- Administer and monitor medicines and intravenous therapy
- Apply principles & practices of infection prevention & control
- Apply nursing practice in the primary health care setting
3. Case-specific techniques
- Apply principles of wound management
- Implement care for person with mental health conditions
- Implement care for person with acute health conditions
- Implement care for person with chronic health conditions
- Implement & monitor care of the older person
- End of life care & palliative approach in nursing practice
4. Professional practice and safety
- Reflect on and improve own professional practice
- Practise nursing within the Australian health care system
- Apply legal and ethical parameters to nursing practice
- Follow safe work practices for direct client care
Nineteen elective units are available, from which 5 may be selected. Individual course providers may not offer every elective.
How Much Does the Diploma Cost?
A Diploma of Nursing costs anywhere from $1,605 to $37,302 according to the Australian Government's official course guide. Some courses may even be free after factoring in subsidies offered by state and territory governments. VET Student Loans mean that, for eligible students, tuition fees don't need to be paid up front.
When considering whether to do the course, also account for the time cost. You will need 18 to 24 months of full-time study to complete the program. Some providers offer part-time options, often indicating 30 months as a timeframe.
Travel costs should also be considered. With about 50 course providers across Australia, you have the opportunity to find a campus near where you live. This can help reduce travel costs, even if the course is "online" and daily commutes are not required. Remember, all courses require attendance for nursing simulations.
Pay Rates for Enrolled Nurses
On average, an EN makes $65,195 in their first year. By the fifth or sixth year, salaries typically peak at around $71,118. This is notable when compared to the starting salaries of Registered Nurses (RNs), which almost always exceed the peak salaries of ENs.
For instance, in Queensland, a fifth-year EN earns around $73,400, while a first-year RN starts at $80,342. Similarly, in Victoria, ENs reach about $65,891 in their fifth year, whereas RNs start at $67,759. This comparison highlights the limited salary progression for ENs relative to the starting salaries of RNs.
Despite this, ENs start their careers with competitive salaries. In regions like New South Wales and Western Australia, they begin with salaries of $63,131 and $66,760, respectively. However, their long-term financial growth remains modest.
The Diploma of Nursing offers an accessible, low-cost entry into the nursing profession. Graduates qualify for enrolled nursing jobs with solid pay rates, without the extensive commitment of a Bachelor of Nursing degree. ENs also have the option to become RNs with further study. Here are the top advantages:
- Short duration. The course takes 18-24 months to complete, shorter than a 3-year bachelor degree.
- Basic entry requirements. There is no minimum ATAR, with just some basic health, literacy and character checks.
- Easier coursework. While it includes 25 units, the course is easier than a university degree.
- Manageable work. Graduates begin with basic nursing positions under supervision.
- Solid pay rates. ENs enjoy competitive pay rates, with an average first-year salary of $65,195.
- Highly affordable. With state subsidies, the course can be very inexpensive or even free for Australian students.
- Low-risk investment. The modest time and financial commitment make it a less risky way to explore nursing as a career.
- Pathway to RN. Graduates can later opt for a two-year Bachelor of Nursing (Enrolled Nurse) program to become an RN.
While a nursing diploma is an accessible and practical course, it also could be seen as an uninspiring and tentative pathway to a nursing career. Here are some of the drawbacks to consider.
- Limited career progression. The career ladder for ENs is not well-defined, and salary potential peaks below that of a graduate RN.
- Limited job opportunities. ENs comprise only 6% of the nursing workforce, indicating far fewer job openings compared to RNs.
- Concentration in Aged Care. Many nursing positions for ENs are in Aged Care, a sector that some may find less appealing.
- Oversupply of graduates. The affordability and accessibility of the course have led to an oversupply of graduates, intensifying job competition.
- Less autonomy in career. As an EN, you will always work under the supervision of RNs, which can limit the scope and excitement of your career.
- May add to total study time. If you later opt for a Bachelor of Nursing, the diploma effectively adds an extra 6-12 months of formal education.
- No access to postgraduate courses. By graduating without a degree, you cannot participate in postgraduate nurse education to advance your career.
Is a Nursing Diploma Worth It?
A Diploma of Nursing is worthwhile for some, though the Bachelor of Nursing remains the more common route into nursing. The diploma offers a simpler academic and financial path and carries less risk if nursing turns out not to be the right fit.
Consider the diploma if you're interested in nursing but unsure about committing to the profession long-term. It's also suitable if you cannot meet entry requirements or lack the financial means for a 3-year Bachelor of Nursing degree.
Completing the diploma allows you to explore nursing with minimal financial commitment and lays the groundwork for potentially becoming an RN later. You will get the opportunity to have patient contact sooner and discover what nursing is really like.
Deciding whether this course is right for you involves many factors. Be mindful that EN jobs can be competitive; success in studies and clinical placements is crucial. Also, consider the long-term perspective: would you be satisfied as an EN, or might you eventually go for a nursing degree?
Related: Degrees for Nursing in Australia
Difference Between an RN and a Diploma Nurse
A diploma nurse, or enrolled nurse, is there mainly to perform patient-focused jobs under the supervision of a registered nurse. Experienced ENs may work highly autonomously and RNs may seek their guidance. However, the role has a relatively narrow scope, with a focus on immediate tasks.
Daily tasks of ENs and RNs often overlap, especially in team settings. While ENs are key in direct patient care, RNs typically lead in treatment planning, task delegation, and care coordination. This division of labor highlights the ENs’ role in hands-on care and support.
ENs gather patient data and contribute to care plans within their scope, as defined by the Enrolled Nurse Standards for Practice. They are responsible for executing clinical tasks and communicating patient condition changes. RNs, with their degree-level qualifications, have a broader scope, taking on more complex and strategic roles in patient care management.