Addressing health literacy: the experiences of undergraduate nursing students

Martha Scheckel, Nicole Emery, Catherine Nosek
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2010, 19 (5): 794-802

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To describe undergraduate nursing students' experiences of learning and providing patient education.

BACKGROUND: To teach nursing students principles and practices of patient education, nurse educators design instructional strategies using educational and clinical practice guidelines, research and theories. This means teachers' approaches to teaching patient education are derived from evidence and support the evidence-based teaching movement. Despite their efforts, research shows that students lack knowledge and skills needed for proficiency in providing patient education. However, this research does not explicate students' experiences of learning and providing patient education, which can inform teachers of ways to structure approaches to teaching students this nursing practice.

DESIGN: The philosophical background for this study was interpretive phenomenology.

METHODS: Eight undergraduate nursing students in their final semester of a baccalaureate nursing programme were interviewed using face-to-face, unstructured interviews. Data were collected using unstructured interviews and analysed using hermeneutics.

RESULTS: Common meanings from the analysis of data shows that a primary practice of students' learning and providing patient education is addressing health literacy. Three sub-themes: (1) respecting languages: learning persistence (2) helping patients understand: learning to teach and (3) promoting engagement: learning sensitivity, exemplify how students are addressing health literacy.

CONCLUSIONS: Contrary to literature on students' lack of proficiency in providing patient education, the findings of this study reveal extraordinary competencies students already have in addressing health literacy. The results of this study show the paramount need for teachers to design instructional strategies that deepen students' extant knowledge and skills in health literacy prior to graduation from nursing programmes.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Using the findings of this study, teachers will gain novel approaches to teaching patient education that specifically target instructing students in the practices of health literacy. These practices can ameliorate and mitigate problems many students encounter when addressing health literacy.

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