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The perceptions and experiences of nursing students attending their first clinical placement in a mental health setting

Buchanan, Michelle (2021) The perceptions and experiences of nursing students attending their first clinical placement in a mental health setting. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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Australian undergraduate nursing programs try to offer a broad and comprehensive approach to nursing education, with the aim in most curricula to provide a general overview of mental health nursing. Undergraduate nursing programs vary in the level of consolidation of theoretical and practical skills with programs including clinical placements in a diverse range of settings that may include mental health. Nursing students come from diverse backgrounds with differing world views, which may lead to pre-conceived views of individuals with mental illness. Potential learning opportunities within the clinical placement setting may be affected if these views are not challenged. The aim of the study was to explore the perceptions of undergraduate nursing students prior to their first clinical placement in a mental health setting and how this compares to their experience on placement.

A two-phase phenomenological approach was used, with the first phase focusing on exploring the perceptions of undergraduate nursing students (n= 14) prior to their first placement in a mental health setting. Data from an open-ended questionnaire administered one week prior to clinical placement was analysed using content analysis. The second phase focused on exploring the experiences during the placement and allowed an opportunity for reflection through individual semi-structured interviews (n=11). Interview data was analysed using thematic analysis and reviewed in relation to findings from phase one.

Participants expressed a range of emotions about their upcoming placement, including for the majority, feelings of excitement and anticipation. Underlying feelings of fearfulness were evident with nearly all participants, despite the excitement of a clinical placement opportunity. Four themes emerged during phase two ‘feeling unprepared’, ‘learning delayed by fear’, ‘time and exposure lead to engagement’ and ‘the system is broken’. These findings help us to understand the nursing students’ experiences as transformative, with key phases identified from pre-placement through the placement and into the post placement period. Based on these findings, strategies are suggested that can be implemented in each phase to prepare and support students to enhance learning within the mental health setting.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Nursing
Notes: Research Masters with Training
Supervisor(s): Browne, Caroline and Hopkins, Martin
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