Not Choosing Nursing: Work Experience and Career Choice of High Academic Achieving School Leavers

An article by Neilson, G.R., and McNally, J. G, Nurse Education Today, 30(1), pp.9-14

This article draws upon interviews with twenty paradigmatic high academic achieving students to elucidate their perceptions of nursing as a career choice, all having once considered but later discarding it. A literature review and comparisons with other countries experiencing declines in recruitment to nursing education and careers lead the authors to argue for urgent review and improvement to current organisation and quality of work experience placements.

In reviewing available literature, the authors support the view that work experience enables students to make career choices based on ‘technical rationality’ (systematic and informed by as great a range of information sources as possible) rather than opportunistic, emotional and partial decisions, as many career choices are suggested to be. Work experience can provide an insight into the realities of various careers and thus guide student choices. Interviews with students revealed that this was not the case with nursing. Among their common perceptions were the following:

  • Appropriate placements were scarce, a notable barrier being the negative unhelpful attitudes of teachers towards nursing as a career and work experience option.
  • Most available placements were felt to be unrepresentative of the ‘real work’ of nurses: many were in care homes, supervised by carers without nursing qualifications or experience. Such experiences were felt to deter many students who were previously considering a career in nursing, and that more representative placements would indeed foster such interest.
  • Many felt university nursing departments should be involved in organising work placements. Many mentioned the strong link between their schools and university science departments as creating interest in scientific careers by raising the profile of science as an important subject and making pupils feel wanted and enthusiastic- “they made you feel that they were interested in you”. Similar links with nursing departments could thus raise the profile of nursing as a career.

Fundamentally, students demanded better-quality work experience placements and felt that current provision was deterring high achieving students from pursing nursing careers. Examples of good practice in other countries experiencing a shortage of nurses are given. In Sweden, students are given three placement choices, and a concerted effort is made to provide their first choice. In the USA, organized links between nursing departments and schools, experiential summer camps and a ‘career academy’ linking academic courses with career themes have successfully enticed students into choosing careers in nursing, as programme evaluations have shown. Early exposure to the challenges and realities of nursing, even among primary school students, would hopefully result in greater recruitment figures. With the Careers Agency no longer supporting work experience databases, it is argued that direct links between schools and universities is a vital and long-overlooked organizational tool in improving student access to nursing careers. However, if radical change is unforthcoming, it is “difficult to envisage an increase in nursing’s status and appeal”, regardless of the Government’s view of work experience.

Not choosing nursing: Work experience and career choice of high academic achieving school leavers – full article