Perceptions of nursing: confirmation, change and the student experience
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Research has identified a number of negative societal perceptions of nursing related to gendered stereotyping, subordination to doctors, low academic standards, limited career opportunities and poor pay and conditions, and importantly how these perceptions may affect levels of recruitment into nursing. Focusing specifically on nurses, research has also considered the extent to which these societal perceptions are realities in their workplaces, and the direct experiences that contribute to attrition from both nursing courses and jobs. However, to date, few research has actually bridged the above approaches and considered the perceptions that nursing students hold as they first enter their education and how these change, or are confirmed, as a result of their experiences. In this context, the current study uses a combined questionnaire (n = 650), interview (n = 30) and focus group (n = 7) methodology to investigate the experiences of students based at two British Universities. The findings suggest that many students were surprised, yet not overwhelmed, by the high academic standards required of them and came to recognize and value the tremendous knowledge, skills set and responsibilities of nurses as they acquired them. However, their experiences reinforced both society's and their own image of an underpaid, overworked profession that lacks respect and has low morale. The findings support media initiatives that emphasize nurses' skills in order to influence public opinion. They also support a range of subtle changes in nurse education at the institutional level to make student life easier. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that these may have a limited impact unless pay and conditions are adequately addressed at the national level.
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