Critical thinking ability of new graduate and experienced nurses


L.J. Fero: e-mail:


Title. Critical thinking ability of new graduate and experienced nurses.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to identify critical thinking learning needs of new and experienced nurses.

Background.  Concern for patient safety has grown worldwide as high rates of error and injury continue to be reported. In order to improve patient safety, nurses must be able to recognize changes in patient condition, perform independent nursing interventions, anticipate orders and prioritize.

Methods.  In 2004–2006, a consecutive sample of 2144 newly hired nurses in a university-affiliated healthcare system completed the Performance Based Development System Assessment consisting of 10 videotaped vignettes depicting change in patient status. Results were reported as meeting or not meeting expectations. For nurses not meeting expectations, learning needs were identified in one of six subcategories.

Results.  Overall, 74·9% met assessment expectations. Learning needs identified for nurses not meeting expectations included initiating independent nursing interventions (97·2%), differentiation of urgency (67%), reporting essential clinical data (65·4%), anticipating relevant medical orders (62·8%), providing relevant rationale to support decisions (62·6%) and problem recognition (57·1%). Controlling for level of preparation, associate (P = 0·007) and baccalaureate (P < 0·0001) nurses were more likely to meet expectations as years of experience increased; a similar trend was not seen for diploma nurses (P = 0·10). Controlling for years of experience, new graduates were less likely to meet expectations compared with nurses with ≥10 years experience (P = 0·046).

Conclusion.  Patient safety may be compromised if a nurse cannot provide clinically competent care. Assessments such as the Performance Based Development System can provide information about learning needs and facilitate individualized orientation targeted to increase performance level.