Aim. This paper is a report of a study exploring what ‘being a good nurse’ means by following nursing students during their pre-registration education and for some years after graduation.
Background. There have been few studies focusing on the nurse role in the transition from student to experienced nurse. Studies with a qualitative design, in particular, are limited in number.
Methods. A longitudinal survey design was adopted, using an open-ended questionnaire at the beginning of education (n = 164), just before graduation (n = 123), and 3–5 years after graduation (n = 77). The participants were students in the nursing programme at a Swedish university. The data were collected during the period 1993–2002. Latent and manifest content analyses were used.
Findings. Four categories were identified in the data. ‘To do good for others’, with the sub-category ‘to care for others’, was most frequent over time and quite stable. The category ‘to be competent and skilled’ was frequent and increased over time. ‘To have professional courage and pride’ and ‘to seek professional development’ were mentioned to lesser extent and showed a slight increase over time. The meaning of being a good nurse grew in complexity over time and informants’ professional awareness seemed to increase, especially concerning ‘to be competent and skilled’.
Conclusion. Attention needs to be paid both to nursing education and practice. Clinical supervision given by nurses with Master's degrees is suggested in order to convey positive attitudes towards nursing development and research into practice. Further studies are needed to compare what ‘a good nurse’ means to graduate nurses and how they actually behave when performing good nursing care.