McNamara (2007) has presented a detailed description of his phenomenological study exploring the role of the Clinical Placement Co-ordinators in Ireland. The description of his design and methodology is excellent and is well supported; there is no doubt he has sound knowledge of the phenomenological approach and this will be of considerable benefit to those reading this paper. However, it seems he has skimped on the presentation of findings as a result. This makes it difficult to determine whether his findings are verifiable, particularly in relation to the rather complex model he has proposed. While small sample sizes are a key feature of studies of a qualitative nature, a sample of five, in this case, does limit the work in terms of producing models, etc. It may be that this work is a small part of a larger study; however this is not made clear.
The data presented in terms of quotes are illuminating, to an extent, but the co-ordinators come across as being rather full of their own importance. One is left with the view that ‘well they would say that, wouldn't they'? when describing how vital they are to the clinical area. The fact the sample is of a volunteer nature contributes to this notion. How many were actually asked to participate? It may have been useful to know this. Were this sample biased? Despite the claim that the phenomenological approach allows for ‘setting aside preconceived notions’, there was no indication that this may have happened. Indeed, the respondents seem to be very much in tune with their notions – in their description of what happened to them as students. This may have had an impact on how they currently view their role. McNamara sees this as ‘objectivity for subjectivity’, however, there is no clear demonstration of this in the findings.
It would be of interest to know how the clinical staff view these findings. Most of the data refer to the support provided to ‘the staff’– are these staff nurses or ward sisters or healthcare assistants? What role do mentors play? The data, in a general sense, seem to indicate very loosely what the clinical co-ordinators see themselves doing in a broad sense, but it is not clear exactly what they do. Is it just support for students in an emotional sense? Or is there involvement in assessment? If so, what does the role become in view of student assessment of failing students? Do the co-ordinators teach? Or tell others how to do it? This presents somewhat of a dilemma if part of the nurses’ role is to teach and it appears that they either do not do it, do not want to do it or do not know how to do it. This is suggested within the findings presented, and is of concern, whichever may be the reason. Personal knowledge of the CPC's role is that they were, in fact, clinical teachers with a teaching remit, but this study does not refer to this.
To reiterate, this study provides an excellent example of the use of a phenomenological approach, and the level of detail is good. However, the findings do not provide the same depth, in terms of support for the proposed diagrammatic presentation or as a clear explanation for international readers as to what exactly the clinical co-ordinator's remit is. In the final analysis, the reader is left asking many more questions about the role than any certainty of what it actually is. Although raising further questions is important, any reader hoping to glean what exactly the co-ordinators do specifically, may be left wanting. This is possibly due to the word constraints of publication or to the closeness to the subject of McNamara.
The relevance of this study could be improved through use of it as the starting point of a thorough examination of the role of the clinical placement co-ordinator and further work could be with ward staff, students and tutors. The views of a small number of co-ordinators, in isolation, present a narrow and potentially biased view and it is difficult to determine whether the aim of ‘clarifying the CPC role through explicating its essential elements’ has been achieved. However, this is a useful study in terms of methodological description and explanation, and this is of real benefit to readers.