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Keywords:

  • student nurses;
  • attitudes;
  • older patients;
  • theory of planned behaviour;
  • education

Background. The ageing of the United Kingdom (UK) population means that the care of older people will become an increasingly important part of nurses’ remit. However, employment statistics suggest that this is an unpopular nursing specialism. This may be due to a number of factors, one of which may be nurses’ negative attitudes towards working with older people. This constitutes a potential problem, especially if such attitudes have an impact on the quality of care provided.

Aim. To examine the attitudes held by student nurses towards working with older patients.

Methods. Questionnaires incorporating Likert-type scales, two vignettes and demographic questions were designed using the theory of planned behaviour. These were distributed to 172 student nurses undertaking preregistration nursing courses in the UK during the academic session 2000–2001.

Results. Student nurses displayed positive intentions towards working with older patients. These were based on their own attitudes and beliefs about what others would wish them to do. Participants believed that their behaviour towards older patients was to a large extent under volitional control. Analysis of the beliefs underlying student nurses’ views showed that they differentiated between those participants who had a relatively positive approach to their work with older patients and those with a less positive approach. In addition, the results offered mixed support for the view that more knowledgeable or experienced nurses hold more positive views towards older people.

Conclusions. The findings offer some support for previous studies that have looked at the more general issue of attitudes towards older people. However, the results also indicate that a more rigorous and more highly focused approach to the study of such attitudes is required if the research is to be relevant to the issue of working with older patients. The theoretical, methodological and practical implications of the findings are discussed.