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Critical incident analysis has been espoused as a valuable method of promoting reflective nursing practice and as a tool for developing curriculum content Despite an obvious application to mental health nursing, however, there has been little detailed examination of the practicalities and educational value of critical incident analysis within a mental health nursing curriculum This paper is based on the use of critical incident analysis within the mental health branch of a Project 2000 diploma course It presents the content of material brought by students, teaching methods used to facilitate learning, and the progressive development of students' reflective processes over the course of a complete branch programme Using Benner's (1984) From Novice to Expert, the authors explore questions regarding the nature and effects of the critical incident technique in attaining competence in mental health nursing skills The authors conclude with a theory-based evaluation and analysis of this student-centred experiential approach to learning as a method for developing reflective practice, and suggest areas for educational research