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Keywords:

  • focus groups;
  • higher education;
  • mature students;
  • nurse education;
  • preregistration;
  • women

Background.  The government of the United Kingdom is encouraging more flexible recruitment strategies to overcome the shortage of qualified nurses. Mature women returning to education, often after completing their families, are a major target, but there has been little evaluation of their experiences as higher education students of nursing.

Aim.  The aim of the study was to follow-up a previous quantitative study of mature women students’ outcomes on preregistration diploma courses in order to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, and consider ways in which their needs might be addressed.

Methods.  Five focus groups were conducted in one higher education institution, and data were analysed using thematic analysis, assisted by the ‘spike’ feature of Word for Windows.

Findings.  Three major themes were identified: ‘Didn't know what to expect’, ‘Reality shock’ and ‘Learning the game’. Subthemes of ‘Learning the game’ were ‘Academic study’, ‘Practice placements and shift work’, ‘Managing the effect of course workload on domestic roles’, ‘Personal growth and changing relationships’, and ‘Support systems and friendships’.

Conclusions.  The findings are discussed in relation to reports of women's experiences in higher education in general. We conclude that the situation and needs of mature women preregistration nursing students are such that fundamental curriculum redesign is needed so that they can participate in higher education in ways that allow integration of their family and student lives, and permit them to benefit from the higher education experience in the same ways as younger students. The study is limited by its local nature, but the findings mirror those of other work, giving reassurance of its wider applicability. Recommendations are made for changes in the philosophy and organization of future programmes to improve their appropriateness and acceptability to mature women nursing students.