Aim. This paper reports a study to inform curriculum development by exploring the contribution of bioscience education programmes to nurses’ clinical practice, their understanding of the rationale for practice, and their perceptions of their continuing professional development needs.
Background. The future of the health services worldwide depends on nurse education programmes equipping practitioners to deliver safe and effective patient care. In the developed world, the structure and indicative content of nursing curricula have been debated extensively. However, despite the rapid expansion in nursing roles brought about by social change, there is little information on the educational needs of nurses in developing countries.
Methods. This study was undertaken in government teaching hospitals in Cape Town, South Africa in 2003. A purposive sample of 54 nurses from a range of clinical settings completed questionnaires and described critical incidents where bioscience knowledge had directed practice. Questionnaires were analysed descriptively, in the main. Analysis of critical incident reports was based on Akinsanya's bionursing model.
Findings. Most nurses felt that their understanding of the biological, but not the physical sciences, was adequate or better: all felt confident with their knowledge of anatomy, compared with 57·4% (31/54) for microbiology. Respondents attributed the successes and failures of their education programmes to their teachers’ delivery of content, ability to relate to practice and management of the process of learning. The biological, but not the physical, sciences were universally (96–100%) regarded as relevant to nursing. However, the critical incidents and nurses’ own reports indicated a need for further education in pharmacology (40/54, 74·1%) and microbiology (29/54, 53·7%).
Conclusion. To meet the needs of nurses in developing countries, and empower them to meet the increasingly complex demands of their expanding roles, nurse educators need to consider increasing the curriculum content in certain key areas, including pharmacology and microbiology.