School of Arts and Humanities
Background: The nursing practicum (clinical practice) is an essential but often highly stressful aspect of the nursing degree. A review of the published literature reveals a strong focus on the stressors that originate within the practicum environment, rather than the student’s life outside the university and practice setting. This article reports on an Australian study, completed before the COVID-19 pandemic, of the university experiences of undergraduate women nurse students with family responsibilities. The findings reveal the importance of factors outside the university on the women students’ practicum experience and their ability to engage and achieve. Methods: The study was qualitative, guided by Gadamer’s hermeneutic philosophy. Twenty-nine women students with family responsibilities (partners and children) were interviewed at two stages of their degree journey. Over 50 h of data were thematically analysed. Findings: The themes ‘family pressure’ and ‘practicum poverty’ describe the impact of domestic work, family finances and practicum organisation on student stress, wellbeing, achievement, thoughts of attrition, and family tension. These findings are particularly pertinent to Australia and other developed nations where the nurse student demographic continues to age. An interpretation of these findings against the recent impact of COVID-19 on nurse education and women’s life choices reveals the likelihood that these difficulties have intensified for women students with family responsibilities since the pandemic began. Conclusions and Recommendations: Many developed nations, including Australia, are increasingly reliant on older women nurse students to maintain the future graduate nursing workforce. This change in nurse student demographic to the mature-age student requires a revision of the organisation of the nursing practicum. Recommendations to nurse education to improve practicum accessibility for women students who have family responsibilities include the application of a flexible and collaborative approach to practicum organisation and communication. Wider recommendations to Government include a revision of the way the nursing student is financially supported during the practicum. Further research that explores the practicum experience for women nurse students during and following the COVID-19 pandemic is also recommended.
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