What Women Nursing Students Want & What Nursing Education Owes Them

By Boughn, Susan; Lentini, Alison | Nursing and Health Care Perspectives, November-December 1997 | Go to article overview

What Women Nursing Students Want & What Nursing Education Owes Them


Boughn, Susan, Lentini, Alison, Nursing and Health Care Perspectives


What do women want from nursing? Students have needs, motivations, and expectations related to their selection of a career. What are they? These questions were the subject of a research project in which women nursing students were given the opportunity to speak "in their own voices." The findings were both interesting and disturbing. While some of the results could be anticipated, others were unexpected. Only a brief summation of the research project will be presented here; a detailed description will be reported elsewhere. Instead, we will focus on what the findings reveal and what they imply for the nursing profession.

It is crucial to know whether or not the needs, motivations, and expectations of nursing students are compatible with the reality of being a member of the nursing profession. This is especially true in today's health care industry, where new graduates are by no means assured of finding a position in their profession.

The conceptual framework of the study was grounded in the view held by many theorists that women possess "voice" unique to their gender enculturation. This concept is well established among both nursing and non-nursing scholars (Benner & Wrubel, 1989; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger & Tarule, 1986; Gilligan, 1982; Gordon & Buresh, 1996; Miller, 1976; Munhall, 1994; Tannen, 1990). While this voice may be subtle, even coded, it nonetheless reveals the thoughts and feelings of women nursing students.

The study was qualitative by design and used the grounded theory method. Sixteen women subjects, four at each college class level, were each interviewed for one to two hours. The interviews were recorded on tape for subsequent data analysis. Immediately following each interview, the data were subjected to a constant comparison process. Further analyses, employing substantive coding, categorical coding, and conceptual coding, made it possible to isolate recurrent words and phrases, and to identify concepts for the purpose of theory building. Reliability was established by both stability analysis and reproducibility analysis. Validity was supported by construct (convergent and discriminate) and representational components. Responses were both qualitatively and quantitatively analyzed.

The findings emerge in three major constructs: caring, power/empowerment, and practical motivations. Not surprisingly, all of the women subjects clearly indicated a strong desire to care for others. The second major construct, unexpectedly, was the most resounding and fully developed concept in the data. The women nursing students desired, and expected to experience, power and empowerment for self and for others in the practice of nursing. The third construct, practical motivations, was strikingly absent. Three-quarters of the women nursing students did not directly or clearly express an interest in practical motivations; references to salary, job security, and decent working conditions were scarce.

The synthesis of these three constructs yields a troublesome formula: Women students are strongly motivated by a desire to care for others, they ask nothing for themselves in the way of financial reward, job security, or decent working conditions, and yet they expect to empower their patients and exercise power for themselves. To the degree that the findings in a research project can be generalized to nurses, the implications of this study are disturbing. If practicing nurses snare similar motivations, needs, and expectations to those of the sixteen subjects, perhaps we are provided with some insight into the present state of nursing. Nurses contribute more to society than most other professional groups, yet are rewarded at a lower level. They experience great frustration at the lack of power they enjoy as individuals and as a professional group.

If one endorses the idea that one must care for oneself before one can truly care for others (Ashley, 1980; Fromm, 1956; Watson, 1988), it is evident that the selflessness exhibited in the students' responses is problematic.

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