Stagnant Perceptions of Nursing Among High School Students: Results of a Shadowing Intervention Study

Gloria Porter, Pamela Edwards and Bradi Granger

In the Journal of Professional Nursing 25:4 (2009), 227 – 233


The recruitment and retention of nurses in the USA is problematic, in notable part due to the misperception of nursing as a career and high drop-out rates of nurses in their first couple of years. This study explores the perceptions of nursing from high school students in North Carolina to find that students experienced a positive shift in perceptions of nursing after job shadowing clinical professionals.


North Carolina has introduced the Academy of Health Sciences, in cooperation with a number of schools, to try to encourage more pupils to think about a career in healthcare. The Academy of Health Sciences programme combines 90 hours of job shadowing experience with health professionals alongside a healthcare-related academic programme. This study involved in-depth interviews with sixteen students in high schools in North Carolina who were participating in the shadowing programme. Semi-structured interviews were conducted following every 30-45 minute experience of shadowing where students were asked about their perceptions of the nurse’s role in clinical practice and compared this to their previous expectations. Responses were coded and themed.


There were five main themes to emerge from the interviews under the overarching theme of a misperception of nursing: professional role responsibility, teamwork, caring relationships, tools and technology, and medication management. Some explanations for the differences between perceptions and expectations of nursing were media depictions, career counsellors’ unfamiliarity with the role and a general stereotype of the role being a secondary care-giver as opposed to professionally independent. A key finding for the study was that nurse shadowing enhanced the perception of nursing as a profession, with a positive shift from students viewing nursing as a ‘handmaiden’ role to one which was more professional demanding a higher level of knowledge and technical expertise. Shadowing helped the pupils involved to clarify their perceptions of nursing and better identify whether they felt themselves to be a good fit for the profession as a career.


The limitations of this study relate to the extent to which the results can be generalised beyond the sample used, the clinical setting selected, and the geography within which it was based.

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