School of Nursing and Midwifery / School of Arts and Humanities / School of Medical and Health Sciences
The average age of women nursing students in Australia is rising. With this comes the likelihood that more now begin university with family responsibilities, and with their lives structured by the roles of mother and partner. Women with more traditionally gendered ideas of these roles, such as nurturing others and self-sacrifice, are known to be attracted to nursing as a profession; once at university, however, these students can be vulnerable to gender role stress from the competing demands of study. A qualitative research design, guided by Gadamer's hermeneutic philosophy, explored the gendered behaviours and experiences of 22 women nursing students, all of whom had children and began university in a heterosexual intimate relationship. The findings reveal traditional ideas of gender were almost universal among participants, and these ideas had a significant influence on the nursing degree experience. Participants commonly prioritised family over the university and practiced maternal gatekeeping (prevention of male partner involvement in domestic work). These traditionally gendered behaviours, coupled with experiences of gender role stress, had a detrimental impact on participants' capacity to study and their personal wellbeing. The importance of these findings to the burgeoning nursing workforce shortage nursing is considered in terms of student retention and the supply of graduates into the profession. The implications to the nursing profession are also explored against the evidence that nursing students with traditional gender beliefs are less likely to develop as autonomous, critical thinking nurses compared to their gender-egalitarian peers. The introduction of gender theory via critical pedagogy in the undergraduate nursing degree curriculum is recommended to enlighten and empower women nursing students and promote the competence, agility, and sustainability of the nursing profession.
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