Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Nursing's Orphans: How the System of Nursing Education in Australia Is Undermining Professional Identity

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Nursing's Orphans: How the System of Nursing Education in Australia Is Undermining Professional Identity

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 1996, Matthews (1996) told his story of a lifelong search for his identity. Gordon was adopted at birth and, although he had been raised in a loving family, had no knowledge of his biological parents. This left him with an emptiness in his life that could only be filled by finding his roots. Gordon's experiences have been repeated many times by those who have not been privileged to hear the stories of their ancestors as they grew up. As a result, their sense of identity is undermined. In a similar fashion, students enrolling into a Bachelor of Nursing within an Australian university join the family of nursing. It is a family with a past: a past that has determined the culture and expectations of nurses today; a past that has determined the boundaries of practice that nurses operate within; and how nurses interact with other members of the healthcare team. Yet, increasingly, students are graduating from universities without that understanding of nursing's past. It is argued in this paper that neglecting to provide nursing students with an understanding of their history undermines their professional identity, a factor associated with poor nursing retention.

Nursing graduates enjoy one of the highest employment rates in Australia, yet many leave within the first year of practice. Bellack (2004) estimates 20% leave within the first year. Hodges, Keeley and Troyan (2008) put the figure as high as 60% in the USA. One of the reasons postulated for this exodus is that nurses with a fragile or negative sense of professional identity rapidly became unhappy with their new occupation (Aiken et al., 2002) as they are faced with the realities of the nursing world, realities for which they were inadequately prepared. Yet researchers also report that Registered Nurses with strong professional identities are more likely to display self-efficacy and be resilient to role pressures and demands (Hodges et al., 2008; Skovholt, 2001). The need to provide nursing students with a sense of professional identity and to adequately socialise them into the profession of nursing is clearly a responsibility of educational institutions. Teaching students nursing's history is fundamental to building professional identity, but it is frequently overlooked as the curriculum becomes overladen with technical and scientific instruction. This paper draws on the results of a critical interpretive study outlining the views of nurse academics towards teaching the history of nursing to nursing and midwifery students. It highlights the role of history teaching in providing students with a sense of who they are and enriching their understanding of nursing as a profession; and explores why nursing students are not being given the opportunity to more fully develop their professional identity.

BACKGROUND

Over the past 20 years there have been numerous calls within the international literature for a greater recognition of the role the history of nursing can provide to the nursing profession. The history of nursing literature itself has undergone significant growth since the early 1980s, with greater levels of critical analysis of the past, more focus on nursing practice, and less reverence for myths. As this growth has occurred, nursing's history has been recognised by many as contributing to the profession's understanding of issues of identity, boundaries of practice and autonomy (Ogren, 1994). Gavin (1989, p. 62) called for the inclusion of the history of nursing in the curriculum in the late 1980s so students could 'understand the place of nursing in today's society and the relationship between medicine and nursing; and how it has changed'. He drew on Habermas' three domains of adult education - technical, practical and emancipatory - suggesting the latter which allowed nurses to explore their role in society was completely missing from nursing curriculum. In the 1990s authors continued to argue that nursing students needed to know their history so they had an additional sense of empowerment, pride, and sense of continuity and place in the nursing profession (Chambers & Subera, 1997; Davis, 1995). …

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