The attitudes and experiences of registered nurses who teach and mentor nursing students in the acute care setting

Linda Evans, Margaret Costello, Hallie Greenberg, Patrice K. Nicholas


Background: The pedagogy of clinical learning for nursing students in acute care settings has transitioned from an apprentice model to one necessitating more dynamic interactions between clinical staff nurses and learners. Clinical nurses must provide theoretical knowledge, share clinical expertise, and model professional behavior to nursing students in an increasingly complex medical system. Our clinical learning environments encompass significant technological advances, shortened length of patient stay, and institutional climates which are often dominated by financial constraints, all which have the potential to impact the teaching and learning environment, and consequently, patient outcomes. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the attitudes and experiences of registered nurses in acute care settings who clinically teach and mentor nursing students in order to understand pedagogical strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

Methods: A qualitative study was undertaken to explore the attitudes and experiences of registered nurses who participate in the clinical teaching and mentoring of nursing students in an acute care setting. Semi- structured interviews were carried out using a focus group format. Three models of clinical education were represented within the sample. The first model consisted of a faculty member affiliated with an institution of higher learning overseeing the clinical experiences of six to eight students on one clinical unit for approximately 14 weeks. The second model was the preceptor-based model wherein an experienced nurse is paired with a student for approximately 240 hours during a ten-week period. The third model was the “Dedicated Education Unit” (DEU). The DEU leverages unit-based clinical staff nurses in a dual role as a clinical faculty member affiliated with a university-based nursing program and utilized a one-to-one or one-to-two teacher to learner ratio.

Results: Thematic content analysis was carried out between and within the focus groups.  The findings suggest that: unit-specific philosophical pedagogies highly impact the overall experiences of teacher and learner; commonly shared, clearly articulated goals are imperative; and a firmly established and refined partnership between the student’s academic institution and the health care facility may be critical to the successful outcome of the experience. Moreover, the participants articulated a perceived link between teaching students and enhanced communication on the unit, utilization of evidenced-based practice, and improved patient outcomes.

Conclusion: The results presented here are based on focus group interviews with three groups of participants who are involved in the clinical education of nursing students. The six themes that emerged serve as a framework for understanding the comprehensive, time-intensive, patient-focused, and role-developmental approaches in which clinical nurses engage to support excellent clinical learning experiences for student nurses.

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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

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

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