Fit for practice? An exploration of the development of newly qualified nurses using focus groups

Timothy Clark, Susan Holmes
International Journal of Nursing Studies 2007, 44 (7): 1210-20

UNLABELLED: Previous research in the newly qualified has primarily focused upon their levels of competence at the time of registration rather than upon the way that this continues to develop over time. Though newly qualified nurses are expected to be competent and able to practice independently without direct supervision the reality is that, for most, their training has not equipped them with the knowledge, skills or confidence necessary for independent practice. This belief provided the foundations for this study designed to gain an understanding of the way that competence develops amongst nurses themselves and how this is seen by their managers and those working with them. It focused neither on what competencies nurses possessed nor on the level of overall competence but rather on the factors influencing the development of competence over time.

RESEARCH DESIGN: This qualitative exploratory study relied upon a combination of focus groups and individual interviews to access information and perceptions not readily accessible through more quantitative means.

DATA COLLECTION: Data was collected using focus groups involving newly qualified staff, including both those on a development programme and those in substantive posts, experienced qualified nurses (preceptors) and practice development nurses. A total of twelve focus groups were conducted yielding a purposive sample of 105 volunteer participants; groups were continued until no new data emerged and saturation was achieved. Ward managers (5) were interviewed individually and their data was added to that obtained from the focus groups.

ANALYSIS: Content analysis of the transcripts enabled the material to be explored systematically to identify relevant themes and categories within the data thus helping to clarify descriptions of the major issues identified; these were returned to the participants to ensure validity in data interpretation.

FINDINGS: Ward managers appear to have low expectations of the newly qualified while 'new' nurses themselves believe that they are expected to be able to fulfil tasks that they feel ill-equipped to undertake. This emphasises the need for appropriate support to enable them to develop their knowledge, skills and confidence and enable independent practice. While staff development programmes benefit some, others gain equal value from supportive preceptorship in helping them to develop the clinical and managerial skills necessary in today's healthcare climate.

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