Still fumbling along? A comparative study of the newly qualified nurse’s perception of the transition from student to qualified nurse
An earlier study conducted in the United Kingdom, examining the newly qualified nurse’s perception of the transition from student to qualified nurse, highlighted the limitations of pre-registration nurse education in respect of failing to provide adequate preparation for the qualified nurse’s role. In the intervening years, major reforms in pre-registration nurse education and continuing professional education have occurred. Concomitant with these reforms have been major policy changes in health care delivery that have impacted upon the role of the nurse. Questions now arise as to whether the education reforms have served to equip newly qualified nurses more appropriately with the necessary knowledge, skills and confidence to function in contemporary health care settings. This paper presents the findings of a follow-up study that entailed a secondary analysis of exiting data obtained from in-depth interviews with 10 newly qualified nurses in 1985 and collecting additional data from 25 newly qualified nurses in 1998 in order to ascertain their perceptions of the transition from student to qualified nurse. Interview transcripts from both sources of data were coded and thematically analysed and comparisons made between the two sets of data. The paper focuses on one theme emanating from the original study. Entitled ‘fumbling along’, it described the haphazard manner whereby the nurses learned to perform their role in the light of what they perceived to be inadequate preparation and lack of support. Similarities and differences in the experiences and perceptions of the two cohorts of nurses are examined in respect of stressful aspects of the role, pre-registration preparation and post-registration development. Data from the follow-up study suggest that although newly qualified nurses still feel inadequately prepared for their role, they have developed a more active style of learning and when supported through a preceptorship scheme appear to find the transition less stressful than nurses in 1985. However, further attention needs to be paid to the development of clinical, organizational and management skills in pre-registration courses and the bridging period between the latter part of the course and the first 6 months post-qualification, in order to enable the neophyte nurse to acclimatize gradually to becoming an accountable practitioner.