• newly qualified nurse;
  • role transition and clinical environment;
  • stress;
  • stressors;
  • student nurse

Aims and objectives.  To measure and compare the perceived levels of job-related stress and stressors of newly qualified nurses and fourth-year student nurses in the clinical environment and to explore the participants’ views on stress and stressors.

Background.  Stress in the nursing workplace has significant consequences for the person, the patient and the organisation, such as psychological and physical health deterioration and impaired professional practice. To address this problem, stress and stressors need to be measured and identified.

Design.  This study used a cross-sectional survey design and self-reporting questionnaires to measure and compare levels of stress in both groups. Convenience sampling involved all newly qualified nurses (n = 120) and fourth-year student nurses (n = 128) in Dublin North-East region in Ireland.

Methods.  The instrument used was ‘The Nursing Stress Scale’ (Gray-Toft & Anderson 1981, Journal of Behavioral Assessment3, 11–23). Descriptive, qualitative analysis was conducted on an open-ended question. Data were obtained from newly qualified nurses (n = 31) and fourth-year student nurses (n = 40) in six acute hospital sites.

Results.  Levels of perceived stress and stressors were high in both groups. Themes identified from the responses to the open question by both groups included excessive workload, difficult working relationships and unmet clinical learning needs. Student nurses also reported the combination of academic demands with clinical placement as a major stressor. There was no significant difference between each group.

Conclusion.  Stress continues to be a problem for nurses in the clinical setting. Excessive workload requires urgent attention by hospital managers in view of widespread retention difficulties. Themes identified could provide a framework for possible interventions for improving the clinical environment for nurses.

Relevance to clinical practice.  These results can help stakeholders in nurse education and practice to develop interventions to reduce stress for both groups and to ease the transition from student to graduate nurse.