Publication Details

Giorgio, B. & Chinnappan, M. (2001). Numeracy in the workplace: the case of nursing and implications for language assistance. Changing Identities: Proceedings of the 2001 Australian Language & Academic Skills Conference, 29-30 November, 2001 (pp. 1-20). Wollongong, Australia: University of Wollongong.


Nursing is a relatively recent arrival in the university sector and as such, represents the increasing diversification of knowledge as traditionally vocational disciplines become academic. The problem of standards in a field like nursing is compounded by several factors including literacy and numeracy. There seems to be a consequent misalignment between the demands of the workplace and levels of preparedness. The issues of literacy are particularly critical in the healthcare environment in which life and death issues abound. The most widely documented consequence of a lack of nursing competence is in drug administration errors. While nurse educators carry the major responsibility for training nurses, academic advisors play a significant role. Students, overwhelmed by the linguistic and mathematical demands of their subjects, become anxious about the real possibility of failure. Academic advisors need to be more multi-skilled than ever in meeting the demands placed on them to support these students. They have to identify the knowledge gaps, bridge theory and practice and support both linguistic and mathematical problem solving. This study investigates the nature of the knowledge gaps these nursing students present with when attempting to solve drug calculation problems. The results indicate an inability to conceptualize the problem both mathematically and linguistically. Some recommendations are made for the continuing language development of these students such that they might graduate, well equipped to meet the demands of the future health-care workplace.

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