• creativity;
  • critical thinking;
  • master's level;
  • nurse education;
  • postregistration education;
  • United Kingdon;
  • utilitarianism

Some dilemmas of master's level nursing education

Despite an increase in the growth of master's level provision for qualified nurses in the United Kingdom uncertainty exists regarding the characteristics of master's level performance in respect of professional practice. This paper presents selected findings from a multidisciplinary study that sought to examine the characteristics of master's level performance in health professional courses that had an expressed practice orientation. It focuses specifically on dilemmas nurse educators encountered in relation to British master's level nurse education. Following an initial pilot stage involving focus group interviews with separate groups of nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists, an interview agenda was developed to explore participants’ perspectives of the characteristics of master's level performance. Individual in-depth interviews were undertaken with a purposive sample of 18 nurse educators drawn from eight universities in England. Interview transcripts were coded and thematically analysed. Six kinds of dilemma emerged from the interviews. These were breadth vs. depth in the conceptualization of master's level for nursing, relevance to practice vs. academic detachment, facilitating creative thinking vs. reinforcing rigidity, encouraging or suppressing different modes of critical thinking, postgraduate nurses as loyal change agents vs. the problem of well-qualified mavericks, and professional experience as facilitating or hindering master's level performance. These dilemmas raise important questions about course design and the role of stakeholders in determining curriculum content. Moreover, a pervasive tension between a utilitarian emphasis on the application and utility of knowledge on one hand, and aspirations to promote creativity and critical thinking which look to alternative possibilities on the other hand, suggests that nurse educators exercise a degree of conservatism in relation to master's level. It is concluded that this apparent quest to maintain a safe variant of the status quo as the best way of promoting the wellbeing of patients should be subject to profound questioning.