Unique nursing partnership forged between UK and China

King's College London is helping to develop nursing in China in a collaboration that is delivering rich learning opportunities.

King's College London is helping to develop nursing in China in a collaboration that is delivering rich learning opportunities

When a London nursing faculty forged a learning partnership with a Chinese counterpart they probably did not expect to be discussing the benefits of using Florence Nightingale lamps to decorate a hospital wall.

Nurses in China at a ceremony for the Nanjing Nightingale Nursing School.

But there is nothing ordinary about the collaboration between King’s College London and Nanjing Health School.

The team at King’s Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery say the exchange has been full of surprises, including decisions about the architectural and interior design for a new college.

Staff at King’s are consultants for the development of the new Nanjing Nightingale Nursing College in Jiangsu, a coastal province north of Shanghai.


Average number of nurses and midwives in Nanjing who are being taught each King's module

Unique initiative

The partnership is believed to be a unique initiative that will develop the capabilities of nursing students, qualified nurses working in practice and Nanjing teaching staff at the existing and new colleges.

Nanjing approached King’s for the five-year project because of its reputation for education and research.

Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery executive dean Ian Norman says China and the UK have similar health concerns because they both have an ageing demographic and increasing levels of chronic diseases.

Valuing nursing

He adds that the relaxation of China’s one-child policy in 2014 and the resulting increase in births would have an effect on its health workforce.

‘The Chinese recognise the value of nursing. They realise that nurses and midwives can independently deliver more to the health service than they tended to in the past,’ says Professor Norman.

This £5 million contract is part of agreements worth £2 billion between China and the UK announced by the government in 2015 – the year the partnership began.

The project has five parts  (see box) with the training for trainers and the continuing professional development modules, and the Nanjing staff's visits to London, having already taken place.

King’s Nanjing Health School collaboration academic lead Mary Crawford visited China twice last year to undertake clinical observations to deepen King's staff's understanding of existing practice and the role of nurses.

Learning from each other

A total of 13 modules chosen by Nanjing are being taught to about 50 nurses and midwives each session by the King’s team.

They include evidence-based practice, high-dependency care in midwifery, normalising birth and gynaecology nursing.

Ms Crawford says: ‘It’s very much a two-way process – we learn as much from them.

‘I think they are becoming more confident in thinking there may be a different way to do practice.'

3 million

Total number of registered nurses in China

Professor Norman agrees. He says: ‘Traditionally, if you have Chinese students, you talk and they listen. They would never contradict the ‘great master’.’

But the King’s team feels China’s education is changing to move away from a strictly textbook approach.

Some 53 oncology nurses have benefited from cancer-specific training under the programme.


Nanjing project manager Miao Ma says specialisation is quite different in China to the UK.

‘In London, nursing is sub-divided more precisely. Nurses in Nanjing do almost everything, and they are called superwomen by Prof Mary', she says, referring to Mary Crawford.

She adds there are also differences in practices, citing the ‘kangaroo care’ used in children’s hospitals in Nanjing.

‘Parents of premature infants put their child on their chest at a specific time every day, just like kangaroos, so that they can provide the sense of warmth and safety needed by the infant,’ Ms Ma says.

The King’s team is benefiting from different perspectives – and forging friendships.

King’s adult nursing and oncology tutor Mary Tanay, who delivered the oncology module, says: ‘Meeting nurses who are as passionate about cancer nursing is very inspiring.’


King’s students will benefit from the ‘internationalisation of the classroom’ when Nanjing students come over in September 2018 for the top-up degree, Professor Norman says.

The cultural differences have also been an education. 


Number of nurses for the 78.5 million people in Jiangsu’s 23 provinces

Professor Norman says one of the things he has learned in the early stages of negotiation of the deal was the Chinese way of business.

A deal’s not truly done until the final dinner, which is a big deal, he says.

Meanwhile, Ms Crawford thought she had put her foot in it at another dinner when she asked a question about communism.

‘They were trying to explain how something had changed so I said "did that come about with communism?" and the entire room went completely silent. Then they said "No, Mary, communism hasn’t been around that long!".'

As the partnership continues, trust is increasing.

In addition to choosing the school's interior design with the Nightingale-style lanterns, the King’s team has also given advice on furniture and accommodation.

Classrooms in Nanjing have chairs and desks fixed to the floor and students live in dormitories. But King's staff advised that if the college wanted to attract international students they needed to offer more space, which has been taken on board.

Professor Crawford goes to China four or five times a year, which can be tiring.

But she says: ‘When I went through passport control when arriving in China recently I turned to a colleague and said "Don’t you find yourself smiling because you are back?"’

What the project involves

  • Train-the-trainers sessions and continuing professional development modules: King’s staff provide training in requested areas of practice to Nanjing health staff.
  • Three-week education programme – 12 delegates from Nanjing came to London for classes.
  • Top-up degree – Nanjing students will come to King’s for a year to augment their diploma-style training to degree level.
  • Designing and delivering a degree-level programme – King’s staff will act as advisers for the design of a new degree-level qualification for nursing in Nanjing.
  • Development of a nursing college of international standard – King’s will consult on the establishment of the college, which is being constructed alongside a new hospital.

Find out more about the partnership


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