The Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity is considering reopening Nursing Sister Schools at the Red Cross and Evangelismos hospitals, as well as the Midwives’ School at the Elena Maternity Hospital, in an attempt to raise the standard of nursing care. This «small vision,» as Health Ministry officials have called the undertaking, calls for a specific training framework (for example, that it be of university standard), sets the standard of entrance requirements for candidates, and establishes the equivalency of the degree with other university degrees. New measures According to sources, the ministry leadership has discussed its intention with the Education Ministry and has received a positive response. The issue is to be taken up by the relevant ministries next fall, after a professional nurses’ association has been set up by a bill expected to be tabled in Parliament soon. The history of tertiary education nursing qualifications in Greece began in 1924, when the Higher Nursing Sisters’ School was set up as a three-year course. It was the first in Greece and one of the first tertiary nursing courses in Europe. Graduates of this school went on to set up a three-year course at the Evangelismos Hospital in 1930 and others as well, including one in Thessaloniki, at the Pammakaristos and Aghia Sophia hospitals. (In fact, the Evangelismos had had a two-year nursing course since the end of the 19th century.) This was the situation until 1984, when the training system was changed. No uniformity The training of nurses nowadays is not uniform, according to Elissavet Haralambidou, president of the Hellenic National Graduate Nurses Association (ESNE). Training is at tertiary and secondary level. Tertiary courses are provided at universities and technical colleges. Since 1980, there has been a nursing department at Athens University which grants postgraduate degrees. There are also eight technical college (TEI) courses of a four-year duration, two in Athens and one each in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Larissa, Lamia, Iraklion and Patras) that grant degrees to 1,000-1,500 new nurses every year. Graduates of three-year courses have the right to call themselves nurses, while assistant nurses are those who have completed two-year courses at technical high school departments at hospitals. These are under the supervision of the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Education. Assistant nursing certificates are also awarded to students at state vocational institutes (IEK). Private qualifications The Greek Red Cross also operates a private nursing school, whose curriculum is similar to that at the TEI, but its graduates cannot be granted professional qualifications since these can only go to graduates of state institutions. As a result, they can only be employed by the Red Cross. In the years after 1984, when all hospital nursing schools were abolished as training was transferred to tertiary institutes, a minor crisis occurred in the sector, which was reflected in the small number of graduates from these schools. «Student nurses at the old Nursing Sister Schools knew why they had chosen the profession. When the TEI courses were set up, many of the students did not even know what the word nurse meant,» said Haralambidou. «That slowly changed and now they are very aware. The same has not occurred at the universities, since they generally took in students who wanted to study medicine but had not been accepted. So only 10 percent of nursing students at universities ended up practicing the profession.» Empty posts At the moment, the National Health Service (ESY) employs about 15,500 nurses and more than 16,000 assistant nurses. In the private sector, there are another estimated 2,000 nurses who have completed a three-year training period. «If we advertised 5,000-6,000 nursing posts today,» said Haralambidou, «I doubt whether they could be filled by graduates of tertiary nursing schools. «ESNE proposes that the secondary school training of nurses be gradually abolished. «Assistant nurses who are senior high school graduates should be given the opportunity to upgrade their qualifications, so that when we talk about someone being a nurse, we know exactly what profession we are talking about,» she said. In most countries in Europe, nursing training is at university level. In Poland and Turkey, university courses for nurses have already been started; so graduates of these schools are likely to flood the European market within the next five years. Bill on monitoring agency A Health Ministry bill is expected to call for the setting-up of an inspectorate of the nursing profession along the lines of the Panhellenic Medical Association, most likely to be known as the «Nurses’ Union of Greece.» ESNE and the Greek Federation of Hospital Workers have submitted their proposals to the ministry regarding this agency, which will be a public entity. All nurses will be required to register with the union on graduation. A register will be kept of all nurses working in the National Health System, in the private sector as well as those who are unemployed. The union will also include a disciplinary council and will have the right to approve the issuing of professional licenses, hold lifelong training seminars and evaluate nurses’ performance.