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Keywords:

  • addiction nursing;
  • career development;
  • educational needs;
  • empirical research report;
  • focus groups;
  • roles;
  • substance abuse

Abstract

Title. Role development and career stages in addiction nursing: an exploratory study

Aim.  This paper reports a study to explore factors influencing recruitment and retention in addiction nursing, and the stages and features of role acquisition and personal qualities important to that role.

Background.  Specialist addiction nurses engage in a number of roles in the care of individuals with problematic use of psychoactive substances. These include assessment, outreach, prescribing, counselling, and harm reduction. In a climate of increasing demand for specialist substance misuse workers, and a trend to identify key occupational competencies, there is a need for a framework in which career progression can be supported. Studies exploring the roles of addiction nurses are minimal, and there is less comment on how these roles are developed in the context of career stages.

Method.  A qualitative study using focus groups was undertaken with specialist addiction nurses between March and June 2004. The data were transcribed verbatim and analysed using Burnard's six content analysis stages.

Findings.  Positive factors identified as influencing recruitment and retention included: prior knowledge of the working environment (as a nursing student), opportunities for autonomous practice, the client profile, and associated treatment philosophy and care approach. There was consensus that nurses choosing to work in the field of addiction needed, in addition to being non-judgmental, personal qualities including hardiness, patience and tolerance. Five role development stages, with a set of descriptors, were identified: encounter, engagement, stabilization, competency and mastery.

Conclusion.  Identification of these five role development stages for addiction nurses offers employers, nurse managers, educators and addiction nurses a starting point from which specific occupational competencies can be further explored. In addition, continuing professional development needs can be mapped to specific role development stages. Employers and nurse managers may wish to offer increased learning opportunities to student nurses to gain work experience within specialist addiction units.