An interpretive phenomenological study of undergraduate nursing students’ navigation of emotionally challenging experiences in health and social care practice

Leonard, Laurence (2020) An interpretive phenomenological study of undergraduate nursing students’ navigation of emotionally challenging experiences in health and social care practice. (Ed.D thesis), Kingston University, .


Introduction. Many of the skills, knowledge, behaviours and conduct for nursing practice are set out in professional codes and standards. However, these give limited guidance on how nursing students should navigate emotionally challenging experiences (ECEs), such asill health, disability,and patient death,whilst in health and social care (HSC) practice.This study examines lived ECEsin practiceamong participatingstudents undertaking a BSc honours degree in the adult field of nursing in a Higher Educational Institute (HEI) in Northern Ireland (NI). In doing so, the study seeks greater understanding of influences that inform and shape nursing students’ responses to such experiences. It also examines participants’lived experiences of formal and informal preparation and support offered, available or utilised (if any) regarding ECEsin practice.Methodological approach.In the study I adopt an Interpretative (Hermeneutic)Phenomenological (IP) approach to the collection, analysis of data and reporting of findings. In doing so I provide attention to important ethical and legal issues,including evidence of ethical approval. I also provide justification for using data from semi-structuredinterviews with twelve nursing students undertaking the programme who consented to participate in the study. Findings.Participants in this study encounter a range of ECEsand use various strategies in navigating such experiences, including suppression of emotions and avoidance of patients and relatives. While cognitive knowledge seeking is a strategy used by participants in navigatingECEs, there is limited evidence of participants’self-knowledge or recognition of their own emotional needs in navigating the complexities of ECEsin practice.There is evidence of a range of support sought and utilised,but alsoa viewthat students could be better prepared and supported specifically in relation to ECEs. While the current undergraduate programme,includes provision offormalised support to nursing students through mentorship, personal tutor(PT), link lecturer (LL) and other roles;the findings suggest that the nature, quality,and access of such support varies in relation to ECEs. Participants’experiencesand perceptions of thefunction of theseroles and how they are performed has an important impact on students’ access of support. This studyindicates that there is aneed for demarcation between pastoral support and disciplinary aspects in LL and PT roles,so that studentsdo not get confused about whether they are being supported,assessed,or disciplined.The findings also suggest that there is a need to betterprepare nursing studentsfor ECEs in advance ofplacements, particularly,speciality and‘taster placements’in other fields of nursing practice. These taster experiences oftenoccur in first year of the programme and often present particular ECEsfor students. This preparation might include teaching and learning strategiesthat facilitate reflections on ECEs and how students might recognise their own responses and emotional needs.

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