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C17. Addictions nurses: Endangered species? Tales from an Australasian workforce mapping project

Addictions nurses: endangered species? Tales from an Australasian workforce mapping project.

Learner category:

  • Novice Level
  • Intermediate Level

Learning objectives:

  • Participants will learn about the results of a largescale workforce mapping project
  • Particpants will explore issues specific to the contemporary addiction nursing workforce in Australia, New Zealand and beyond
  • Participants will explore how conducting similar projects globally can help build the addiction nursing voice
  • Participants will be introduced to the concept of the “endangered” addictions nurse and explore strategies to avoid the loss of our specialty in Australia and New Zealand.



Introduction During 2019, the Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia (DANA) undertook an ambitious project to understand the drug and alcohol nursing workforce in Australia. DANA conducted this project to provide a detailed overview of nurses working in drug and alcohol positions across Australia. The project found a highly qualified, experienced workforce approaching retirement, with few graduates entering the specialty leading to the observation that drug and alcohol nurses are an ‘endangered species.’ Methods The project used a mixed methods approach to explore the workforce, including key informant interviews, a survey of drug and alcohol nurses across Australia and semi-structured interviews with drug and alcohol nurses. Registration data was also utilized to provide further background and data triangulation. Results The project found that drug and alcohol nurses were highly experienced, highly qualified… and endangered; both survey and registration data show a high proportion of drug and alcohol nurses are aged 45 and over, with few graduates or nurses under 35 in the specialty. Positions of participants were diverse, with skills required well beyond mere addiction treatment. These observations were also supported by qualitative data provided by drug and alcohol nurses in the field. Conclusion Nursing is no stranger to the conversation around workforce shortages, however the results of this project show an alarming situation that could potentially lead to the drug and alcohol nursing specialty becoming extinct. Urgent measures are needed to bring new entrants to the specialty; this presentation will provide recommendations to attempt to address this situation.


Adam Searby
RN, PhD, Deakin University/Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia

Dr Searby is a registered nurse who has worked across mental health, community and addictions nursing. He is currently a lecturer at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia and has research interests in addiction nursing workforce development and older adult addiction issues. Dr Searby is the president of the Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia, the peak professional body for addictions nursing in Australasia.

Comments (10)

  1. Colleen Blums

    Hi Adam
    Thank you so much. I loved the aerial tour of Australia and the graphic animation at the outset of your presentation! Although I am a Queenslander I have never licked a cane toad (for the hallucinogenic experience or any other reason) but I do love flathead.
    How are we going to get the message out to undergraduates about AOD nursing as a career path and what can we do to stem the tide of jobs going to generic AOD workers?

    1. Adam Searby

      Thanks for watching Colleen!
      Just for our international readers who may not be familiar, flathead is a very ugly fish that happens to be delicious. I know a few of our IntNSA colleagues have looked at the addiction content in undergraduate nursing programs and have come to similar conclusions – there just isn’t enough. A key recommendation of our research is to further look at how we can promote addiction nursing as a viable career choice, especially given that research indicates that positive clinical experiences for students in specialty areas can often influence their choice of specialty to work in. Of course, it is easy to say this – the hard part is actually working out how we can improve our promotion and potentially devise some way to collaborate between the DANA and IntNSAs out there and education providers to influence students career decisions. Hopefully, we will embark on some research into this in 2021 (fingers crossed we can present it in Calgary – physically, not virtually!).

  2. Virginia Singer

    Thank you

    1. Adam Searby

      Hi Virginia,
      Thanks for watching.


    Great presentation! thank you
    Stay well!

    1. Adam Searby

      Thanks Suzanne,
      Hope you are well. Fingers crossed we can all catch up in person in Canada next year.

  4. Dennis Hagarty

    Thanks Adam,
    Appreciate your presentation. You pose some very important questions relating to expanding the SUD nursing workforce. Nurses use to do everything for the patient. This included cleaning bedpans, advising patients about their disease, mixing medications, and public health work. With the expansion of adjunct professions much of this is no longer. Specialization in Addictions nursing requires that we take back some of the duties we gave away. There have been some very good presentations at this conference where nurses are expanding the roll and doing just that.
    Your comments about SUD nurses going out to other areas first needs to be explored as to how to attract nurses with medical knowledge to enter Addictions nursing. As in Australia most of the world wants to have an experienced work force. The question is how to tailor our education efforts to make SUD nursing attractive to those with other experiences,

    1. Adam Searby

      Hi Dennis,
      Thank you for watching. The research did highlight that several roles that we would consider traditionally associated with nurses were being made available to other specialties or generic workers. So yes, we do need to fight against the idea that our role is generic, especially with the need for comprehensive physical health management. The rapid change to the long acting injectible buprenorphine during COVID lockdowns has been interesting in this respect given this is largely a nurse-managed medication.
      We definitely need to explore how we get our new addictions nurses the skills they need. This is something we will investigate shortly in the Australian context.

  5. Virginia Coletti

    thank you Adam, Great presentation. Sorry you missed coming to Canada. Excellent presntation.

    1. Adam Searby

      Thanks Virginia – I was really looking forward to visiting as well. Hopefully next year.

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