Merely a stepping stone? Professional identity and career prospects following postgraduate mental health nurse training



Accessible summary

  • Accelerated mental health nurse training attracts talented graduates, many with a psychology degree.
  • Our study shows that such trainees feel incompatible with the nursing culture.
  • Consequently, professional identification is inhibited, and on qualifying these nurses may choose to develop their careers elsewhere.
  • Nurse educators and mentors should pay greater attention to nurturing a positive professional identity in trainees.


Alongside their attainment of knowledge and skills, nursing trainees are moulded by a professional culture and inculcated to norms of beliefs and behaviour. The process of professional identification may be inhibited by accelerated nurse training and an influx of psychology graduates potentially using mental health nursing qualification as a springboard to other career opportunities. This study explored facilitators and barriers to professional identification in newly qualified nurses of accelerated postgraduate training. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 10 nurses who had recently completed a postgraduate diploma in mental health nursing at King's College London. Participants identified more with the mental health field than with the broader profession of nursing. They defined their practice in terms of values rather than skills and found difficulty in articulating a distinct role for mental health nursing. Although participants had found experience in training and as a registered practitioner rewarding, they were concerned that nursing may not fulfil their aspirations. Professional identity is likely to be a major factor in satisfaction and retention of nurses. Training and continuing professional development should promote career advancement within clinical nursing practice.