Experiences of nursing students in caring for patients with behaviors suggestive of low health literacy: a qualitative analysis

Carol Shieh, Anne E. Belcher, Barbara Habermann


Background: Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand health information in order to take appropriate health actions. Low health literacy is associated with poor health knowledge and self-management of chronic disease, inadequate utilization of preventive services, and increased hospital admissions. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends that nursing schools incorporate health literacy into curricula. Little, however, has been reported about what nursing students have learned and done about health literacy in clinical. This study explored undergraduate nursing students’ experiences in caring for patients with low health literacy.

Methods: A qualitative content analysis method was used to analyze 59 narratives written by undergraduate nursing students.

Results: Three themes were uncovered: sensing low health literacy by behavioral cues, promoting health literacy with multiple strategies, and closing the health information loop with positive and negative feelings. Noncompliance, knowledge deficits, anxiety/concerns, and language barriers were behavioral cues indicating low health literacy, and these cues triggered the students’ information support actions. Students promoted patient understanding and utilization of information by using many interventions: simplifying information, reinforcing information, giving written information, and demonstration/teach-back. Many students felt good about being able to help increase knowledge and self-care skills of their patients. Some were frustrated because they were unable to promote lifestyle modifications of the patients with complicated chronic diseases. Students, however, did not employ standardized tools to assess the health literacy of the patient or the patient’s knowledge of specific diseases, nor did they assess readability of patient education materials or provide patient empowerment interventions to encourage active information-seeking and participation in self-care.

Conclusions: Nursing students could identify behavioral cues suggestive of low health literacy and provide solutions to increase the patient’s health literacy. To enhance student practice, nursing curricula, however, can integrate relevant health literacy assessment tools and empowerment interventions.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5430/jnep.v3n2p75

Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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