All You Need to Know About Nursing Laws in Australia

by Dr. Alan December 14, 2020

Not everyone who studies who takes up medicine wants to become a doctor. Most aspiring candidates have a passion for getting into the nursing sector. Nursing and Midwifery deals with patient care and people management.  

In Australia, nursing is a particularly lucrative career option for medical students. The curriculum is well-balanced, extensive, and inclusive of practical and theoretical training.  

Most aspiring nursing candidates are aware of the rights of the patients. However, they don’t know much about the laws governing their workspace rights. Becoming a nurse in Australia is easier said than done.

Speaking up for minority patients and peers, advocating for their rights are entirely within your rights as a nursing professional.

Who controls nursing practices in Australia?

The healthcare sector in Australia is booming, opening new opportunities for students who want to get into nursing. Anyone who wants to get into nursing must register at the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, NMBA.

This body works on the standards set under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law of the territory. In Australia, each state follows its own set of nursing practices. So, ensure that you meet the checklist of the area of your preference.

NMBA regulates the rights of nurses working in Australian healthcare centres. This applies to both private and government-held institutions. It supervises everything from registration, professional codes, patient care guidelines and workspace practices for nurses.

This regulatory body also safeguards the healthcare spaces in Australia. Practising nurses or interns can contact NMBA for more details, queries, or any grievances within the hospital.  

Types of nursing practices in Australia

NMBA sets the limits for nurses, defining their duties and responsibilities within the workspace. Note that these rules apply to registered nurses, enrolled nurses, nursing students, aspiring candidates and more.

NMBA’s National framework for the development of decision-making tools for nursing and Midwifery practise evaluates the candidates are competing for the job. Students who want to change their practice or area or specialize can also reach out NMBA.  

The body sets the context and scope of the nursing practice for the practitioner. As a beginner, you have a lot of choices to pick from. Nursing students can either join healthcare clinics or medical schools. 

Your choice determines where you’re posted for your service. There are three main practice settings- rural, urban, and remote locations. Each of these vacancies has a specific set of requirements. 

Read on to know more about the four primary nursing positions accessible in Australia.  

Advanced nursing practitioners

Nursing practitioners hold the senior-most position in the hierarchy. They supervise and evaluate the status of most RNs and ENs in the healthcare facility. Nursing practitioners are part of the diagnosis and emergency patient care process as well.

Candidates applying for the position of the nursing practitioner must have ample experience in working with medical equipment. A practitioner also has to sometimes assist doctors in surgeries, conduct tests, prepare the patient for treatment, and prescribe medications.

Nursing practitioners must register under the NMBA or Nursing and Midwifery Board. You can refer to Nurse-in-focus, a document published by the Australian healthcare workforce department for more details.  

Registered nurse

Registered nurses or RNs have a minimum qualification of 3-years bachelor’s degree. A candidate to pass off as an RN must also clear the national licensing exam to obtain their nursing license. After graduating with a nursing degree and consent, the applicant must register with the NMBA to get into practice.

Registered nurses are in a senior position and often prefer to work independently. They can also be a part of inter-dependent teams, with interns and junior medical staff reporting to them. The RNs even supervise the training of enrolled nurses or ENs within an organization.

Registered nurses are mid-level positions in the healthcare hierarchy. Their area lies under a nursing practitioner and above ENs. Both nursing practitioner and RNs require advance level degrees and academic credentials to qualify for the job.

Enrolled nurse

Enrolled nurses or ENs are the entry-level positions, requiring but a diploma or IV certification in nursing to qualify. Students can apply for ENs vacancies after a primary degree in nursing. However, ENs hold the lower rungs in the nursing staff hierarchy

ENs usually have to assist RNs and report to them for their day to day responsibilities. They don’t work independently, but in association with their peers and seniors. Preparing the patients, giving daily medicine and other preliminary duties.

ENs and RNs are also responsible for communicating with the family of the patient as well.   


Midwives are a special section in the nursing hierarchy that specialize in childcare and delivery. They hold an essential position in the Australian healthcare system. Neonatal and post-natal care is integral for both the mother and the child.

A bachelor’s degree in Midwifery is a 3-year course. Although you can get a diploma degree or a part-time internship for a shorter duration. Some universities in Australia also offer combined degrees of bachelor’s in Midwifery and Nursing.

The standard practices and guidelines of Midwifery practice are stated in the NMBA document. You can consult the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council for more details. This body supervises the certifications, exams, and curriculum of the respective degree courses.

Eligibility criteria

To become a registered nurse in Australian healthcare institutions is not an easy task. You need to,

  • Complete the nursing degree course or get a necessary diploma in the field
  • Clear the nursing entrance examinations
  • Complete an internship with a private or government clinic
  • Meet the guidelines stated by NMBA

You can even get independent accreditation under Australia’s National Registration and Accreditation scheme. And for those who wish to change their department from RNs/ENs to Midwifery can apply under the Australian Govt’s General Skills Migrant Program.

Nursing students can either join healthcare clinics or medical schools.

Nursing legal rights

A career in nursing is not without its downsides. You need to be aware of your rights and privileges to fight any instance of workplace exploitation. Patient-care abuse, workplace discrimination, hate crime and fiscal fraud are some common concerns to look out for.

Here are some of the common issues every nursing student must be aware of. I will also discuss the legal alternatives and guidelines regulating these activities.

Nurse-patient ratio

In most hospitals, the nursing staff is under extreme pressure to cater to patients round the clock. These working hours can get very overwhelming for ENs and nursing interns. The NMBA and other Australian nursing bodies state the working hours and guidelines.

Understaffing and overcrowding are the two main reasons behind high nurse-patient ratios here. Some hospitals even resort to hiring untrained nurses at lower pays to compensate for the workspace.

The nursing laws set limits to the working hours, work pressure and shift timings for each department. Nursing staff or students have the right to lodge a complaint against a healthcare centre that doesn’t cater to these regulations.

Scope of practice

As a nursing student, you must be aware of the career prospects and opportunities you can explore while working. Most hospitals in Australia encourage nurses to improve their skills and apply for higher positions

The NMBA has all the information about how and when you can upgrade your skills and train for new posts. Every nursing position has specific sets of powers and responsibilities. Ensure that you read up on these regulations well before applying for any job.

NMBA also takes care of your nursing license renewal, registration, and other technical legalities. Every hospital also has a nursing body that caters to these requirements. 

Workplace violence

Workplace abuse, violence and exploitation are some common issues many nurses face in Australian hospitals. The increasing racial intolerance only adds on to the problem with the nursing staff facing discrimination because of their ethnicity.

The NMBA and other bodies help and support to nurses facing these issues. Discrimination and hate crimes are a punishable offence, and anyone who’s a victim of workplace abuse can complain against their perpetrator.

Sexual and psychological violence can cause mental stress and trauma to nursing students working/interning in healthcare clinics. It is better to be aware of your rights beforehand and take appropriate action against the offender.

Advocating for patient/peer rights

Nurses have shaped the way the Australian healthcare system and legislations functions in a modern-day context. The nursing organizations are continually looking for ways to improve patient care, diagnosis, and treatment in public spheres.

Speaking up for minority patients and peers, advocating for their rights are entirely within your rights as a nursing professional. In fact, according to the Code of Ethics for Nurses, 2001, nurses have the freedom to express their political opinions and advocate for their rights.

Quick links and references

I have curated a list of reference papers and extra reading material that you can refer to for more in-depth insights on nursing laws. I also recommend nursing students to read through case studies to understand how these regulations are applied.

Feel free to cite them in your next nursing law assignment for some extra brownie points.

AMA Nursing Standards and Practices

Nursing Legal Issues in Australia: The Nurse Practitioner

Three steps for nursing in Australia

 Nursing and Midwifery Resources

The Bottom Line

Nursing laws safeguard the interests of nursing staff inside a medical facility. It also protects nurses from workplace exploitation, oppression, and unfair practices. I hope this blog on nursing laws in Australia was of some help to students.

Learn How To Write Better Assignments For Your University Course