CSU honorary doctorate for nursing visionary

Sunday 15 Jul 2018

* Dr Judith van der Wal, BA, MEd, received a CSU Doctor of Health Studies (honoris causa) for her advocacy for nursing higher education

* Her work and advocacy led Australia to become the envy of the world’s nursing profession

The Charles Sturt University (CSU) Council has conferred an honorary doctorate on a woman whose active advocacy contributed to the development of modern nursing education at CSU and in the higher education sector in Australia.

Dr Judith van der Wal, BA, MEd, received a Doctor of Health Studies (honoris causa) at a special dinner at CSU in Bathurst on Thursday 12 July.

The citation describes Dr Judith van der Wal (pictured with CSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann) as an inspirational nurse and midwife, exemplary academic leader, a ‘living national nursing treasure’, great friend and contributor to the success of nursing and health sciences at CSU.

CSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann noted that Dr van der Wal was a university graduate when she entered the nursing profession and this was an important influence on her life and career, and on her influence of others.

“Judith was an early supporter of the idea that nurses should be better educated,” Professor Vann said.

“She saw clearly that the education of nurses in the apprenticeship system was not adequate for the level of responsibility nurses held for the safety of the sick person or for the quality of the care they deserved.

“Judith advocated for the introduction of postgraduate education of nurses in specialty areas, and later for the movement of pre-registration education to the higher education sector and out of the apprenticeship model of hospital-based training.”

The citation for the honorary doctorate explains that in 1981, in response to an urgent call to help save the struggling Wagga Wagga-based pilot program of nursing in the higher education sector, Dr van der Wal moved her family to Wagga Wagga and led the program to stability and success.

“The success of this program played a significant part in convincing the NSW Government to move all of nursing education to the higher education sector, a move promptly followed by the federal government,” Professor Vann said.

“Australia became the envy of the world’s nursing profession, having achieved a single-entry point at initially diploma and then quickly at degree level.”

The then Riverina College of Advanced education built on this pre-registration program by introducing a Bachelor of Health Science (Nursing) post-registration program to enable hospital trained nurses to gain a degree.

This course educated the first generation of university nurse academics and began the now flourishing nursing research culture, as typified by the CSU School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health.

Dr Judith van der Wal was born in Auckland New Zealand in 1931 and was educated at Epsom Girls Grammar School. She gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952 from Auckland University and then took the unusual postgraduate step of becoming a nurse and later a midwife. She then gained experience as a nurse and midwife for several years, both in New Zealand and overseas.

As part of her advocacy role for nursing education she began teaching at the NSW College of Nursing and later at Cumberland College of Health Sciences. Dr van der Wal was an active Board member of the professional body, the NSW College of Nursing, and was in fact its President in 1980. She also worked as the curriculum officer for the NSW Nurses Education Board, again in support of the transfer of education.

Professor Vann said, “Dr van der Wal’s extraordinary command of English literature ensured that all graduates of her programs appreciated the Art as well as the Science of nursing.

“Judith was a very early proponent of the narrative as a means of accessing human experience, so critical for the nurse to be able to glimpse the world of the patient, the worlds from which the patients came, and to which they would return.”


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