• stress;
  • distress;
  • coping;
  • screen

Levels of affective distress, sources of stress and coping strategies reported by first-year student nurses in Tayside, Scotland, were measured using the General Health Questionnaire (30-item version), the Beck & Srivastava Stress Inventory (BSSI) and a modified ‘Ways of Coping Questionnaire’. Screening showed that, around the time of an initial series of hospital placements, 50.5% of students in cohort 1 (n=109, week 40) and 67·9% of students in cohort 2 (n=111, week 24) suffered significant affective distress. This exceeds levels reported in published studies of degree nursing students, fourth-year medical students, and the general female population. Distressed students reported the same sources of stress as the non-distressed students, but suffered them more intensely. Many BSSI items were seen as common sources of stress; however, the frequency with which an item was reported to be stressful was not related to whether scores on that item predicted overall distress. In both cohorts, the use of direct coping was associated with lower levels of distress, and with lower total stress scores on the BSSI. The use of fantasy and hostility was associated with high levels of distress and stress, in both groups. This screen of 220 first-year student nurses suggests that there is a problem with student distress around an initial series of general/ surgical and psycho-social ward placements. The possible determinants of this distress are complex, and it is unlikely that presenting information alone will be sufficient to reduce this distress.