Aims. The use of cluster analysis to determine if specific groups of students could be identified based on their attitudes towards mental health nursing following the completion of a clinical experience in a mental health setting.
Background. Research suggests that nursing students generally have a negative image of mental health nursing. This can be improved following clinical exposure in mental health settings, however, specific aspects of clinical experience that might facilitate attitudinal change have been under-researched.
Methods. A survey was administered to students (n = 703) immediately after completion of their clinical experience. Cluster analysis was used to identify natural groupings within the study cohort.
Results. Three distinct clusters were identified. Cluster 1 demonstrated more positive attitudes, greater confidence and viewed mental health more positively than students in the other two Clusters. They were more likely to be male, have spent at least 30 minutes per shift with a preceptor and have completed shifts of eight hours rather than seven hours.
Conclusions. Attitudes to mental health nursing may be influenced by specific demographic characteristics of students and by specific aspects of their clinical experience.
Relevance to clinical practice. The nursing workforce is an essential element of quality mental health service delivery. Knowledge about factors influencing more positive attitudes is important for structuring clinical experience and designing effective recruitment strategies to attract more students into this field of practice.