• caring;
  • infectious;
  • nursing;
  • phenomenology;
  • source isolation;
  • student nurse

Aim.  To illuminate issues central to general student nurses’ experiences of caring for isolated patients within the hospital environment, which may assist facilitators of learning to prepare students for caring roles.

Background.  Because of the development of hospital-resistant micro-organisms, caring for patients in source isolation is a frequent occurrence for supernumerary students on the general nursing programme. Despite this, students’ perceptions of caring for this client group remain under researched.

Design and methods.  Through methods grounded in hermeneutic phenomenology, eight students in the second year of the three-year undergraduate programme in general nursing were interviewed using an un-structured, open-ended and face-to-face interview approach. Data analysis was approached through thematic analysis.

Results.  Four themes emerged: The organization: caring in context, Barriers and breaking the barriers, Theory and practice, Only a student. The imposed physical, psychological, social and emotional barriers of isolation dramatically alter the caring experience. Balancing the care of isolated patients to meet their individual needs while preventing the spread of infection has significance for students. Applying infection control theory to the care of patients in source isolation is vital for students’ personal and professional development. Perceptions of supernumerary status influence students’ experiences of caring for these patients.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Designating equipment for the sole use of isolated patients assists students in maintaining infection control standards. Balancing the art and science of caring for patients in source isolation is important to reduce barriers to the student–patient relationship and to promote delivery of holistic care. Staff nurses should consider using available opportunities to impart recommended isolation practices to students thereby linking the theory of infection control to patient care. Providing structured, continuing education for all grades of staff would acknowledge the interdependence of all healthcare workers in controlling hospital-acquired infection.