The meaning of empowerment for nursing students: a critical incident study


  • Caroline Bradbury-Jones,

    1. Caroline Bradbury-Jones BSc MA RN RM HV PGCE
      Lecturer in Nursing
      School of Healthcare Sciences,
      University of Wales, Bangor, UK
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  • Sally Sambrook,

    1. Sally Sambrook BA PhD RN PGC(H) E CIPD
      Senior Lecturer, UWB Teaching Fellow, Director of Postgraduate Studies (Business and Management)
      Bangor Business School,
      University of Wales, Bangor,
      Hen Goleg, Gwynedd, UK
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  • Fiona Irvine

    1. Fiona Irvine MSc PhD RN RNT DNCert
      Senior Lecturer in Nursing Research
      Centre for Health-Related Research,
      College of Health and Behavioural Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor,
      Gwynedd, UK
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C. Bradbury-Jones: e-mail:


Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to explore the meaning of empowerment for nursing students in relation to their clinical practice experiences.

Background.  Empowerment and power are well-researched areas of nursing practice, particularly in relation to Registered Nurses. Furthermore, several studies have considered the experiences of nursing students in terms of nursing culture and socialization. However, few researchers have focused specifically on nursing student empowerment.

Method.  The critical incident technique was used and anonymous data were collected between November 2005 and January 2006. One hundred and nine written critical incidents were provided by 66 nursing students relating to empowering and disempowering experiences in clinical practice. The data were content analysed.

Findings.  Nursing students experience both empowerment and disempowerment in clinical placements, centring on three issues: learning in practice, team membership and power. Continuity of placement, the presence of a mentor and time underpinned empowering experiences whereas their absence had a disempowering effect.

Conclusion.  The consequences of nursing student empowerment are high self-esteem, motivation for learning and positive regard for placement. Supportive mentors play a pivotal role in the empowerment of nursing students and it is essential for the nursing profession that they are supported to undertake their mentorship role.