• caring;
  • first clinical placement;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • nursing students;
  • perceptions of nursing

Aims and objectives.  This paper reports on non-mature general nursing students’ perceptions of nursing as a career prior to their first clinical placement.

Background.  It is widely recognised that the first clinical practice experience serves a dual role, that of validating students’ choice of career and shaping their perceptions of nursing. This study sought to explore 23 first year non-mature (<23 years) nursing students’ perceptions of nursing as a career prior to their first clinical exposure. The students accessed the programme via two different modes of recruitment.

Method.  This qualitative descriptive study used focus group interviews as a means of data collection. Interviews were held within 10 weeks of entry into nursing. Data were analysed using the five stages of framework analysis. Ethical approval was obtained.

Results.  Mode of recruitment did not influence students’ perceptions of nursing. The students unanimously identified caring as the essence of nursing. They also acknowledged the role of the media in shaping theirs and society’s perception of nursing. Male students expressed concern regarding the negative connotations associated with their career choice. Student participants could not appreciate the totality of the curriculum content at this stage of their course.

Conclusions.  Caring remains the essence of nursing. Educators need to take cognisance of first year students’ abilities to appreciate the link between theory and practice. This may be enhanced by the employment of teaching strategies that role-model this link for students. Recruiters must be proactive in addressing the challenges facing males in choosing nursing as a career.

Relevance to clinical practice.  An insight into how nursing students perceive nursing prior to their first clinical placement is important for clinicians. This information is valuable in terms of providing registered nurses with an understanding of the students’ perspective and the associated supports required by nursing students on first clinical placements.