Aim. This paper reports a study to determine the perceptions of baccalaureate nursing students towards clinical specialties and what factors influenced these perceptions.
Background. Previous studies have shown that nursing students enter their professional education with preconceived perceptions about the different clinical specialties in nursing. Some investigators have found that factors such as clinical experience influence these perceptions, but others have not. Cultural and social influences, especially among non-western cultures, have rarely been investigated.
Methods. Israeli baccalaureate nursing students were surveyed in their first, third and fourth years of study during the years 1998–2004. They were asked to rank their preferences for clinical areas related to social need, social prestige, level of interest in the clinical area, job choice and what factors influenced their decisions related to job choice. Mean ranks and associations between class and calendar year cohorts were calculated.
Results. Critical care was consistently ranked as the highest preference in all perception checklists, followed by emergency, maternity and paediatric nursing. Psychiatric, community and gerontological nursing were consistently found at the bottom of the list. High levels of association were found among students from different class cohorts and calendar years. Life experiences were ranked as the factor that most influenced career choice.
Conclusion. Nursing students in Israel tend to perceive clinical areas in ways similar to other students around the world. These perceptions are strongly influenced by personal experiences and other personal contacts, most often not nursing instructors. Major changes in the local society seem for the most part to have little impact on these perceptions. Therefore there is a need for international nurse educators and recruiters to develop new, creative strategies to encourage nursing students to pursue careers in areas presently considered less popular.