Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Nursing Honours


School of Nursing, Midwifery and Postgraduate Medicine


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Jon Mould


Not only are fewer undergraduate nursing students opting to pursue a career in mental health nursing (Arnswald, 1987; Clinton & Hazelton, 2000; Happell, 1998; Lam, McMaster & Troup, 1993), but nursing students continue to rank mental health nursing as their lowest preference of career choice. Instead, nursing undergraduates appear to be opting for positions within the surgical or critical care specialties (Durkin, 2002; Happell, 1999; Happell1999; Happell, 2001). The aim of this descriptive study was to investigate and identify the potential reasons why undergraduate nursing students do not take up mental health nursing as a career. This descriptive study implemented a self-report questionnaire that was developed by the author. The first part of the study involved a pilot test of the instrument to ensure reliability and face and content validity. The pilot test was carried out amongst 32 third year nursing students at Edith Cowan University (ECU), Perth, that had completed at least one mental health rotation. Once given feedback from the pilot test, germane changes were made and the main study was then conducted. The questionnaire was distributed to 134 third year undergraduate nursing students at ECU in Perth, Western Australia. Participants were provided with an information sheet. Confidentiality was maintained at all times, as all questionnaires were coded with a numerical code number and sighted only by the researcher and supervisor of the study. Anonymity was also maintained, as all students were instructed to place the completed questionnaire in an envelope and then into the box provided at the front of the lecture theatre. The questionnaire was divided into three sections: section one included demographic data; section two contained open and closed-ended questions about influences that may hinder students' choices in pursuing mental health nursing; and, section three contained open-ended questions regarding students' positive and negative views of clinical placements and preceptors. The findings have been reported using appropriate descriptive statistics for the demographic data, influences, ranking of preferred specialty and students' views of their placement. Analysis of data was performed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) for Windows, version 11.0 computer software. The key findings of this study have indicated that mental health nursing continues to be ranked as the least preferred career option considered by undergraduate nursing students, compared with the more technologically based specialties such as emergency nursing. Furthermore, the variables: feeling inadequately trained or prepared to enter the psychiatric workforce; clinical experiences; job dissatisfaction; lack of task orientation; and patient violence, have been shown to have either a minor or major influencing effect on undergraduate nursing students' decision to pursue mental health nursing as a career. Therefore, it was evident from the findings of this study that the proportion of students interested in pursuing mental health nursing is disproportionately low compared with other specialties. Additionally, the majority of students had no interest or motivation to pursue mental health nursing as a career once graduated. This in turn impacts on the recruitment of undergraduate nurses into mental health nursing, and possibly contributes to a paucity of mental heath nurses in the workforce. Knowledge of factors that influence the decision an undergraduate nursing student may make when considering employment in a mental health setting may assist clinical preceptors and universities to deliver alternative teaching strategies. These strategies may be effective in terminating the ongoing difficulties currently experienced in the process of recruitment and retention of mental health nurses. This may, in part, also alleviate the stigma and stereotypes associated with mental health nursing and the mentally ill (Happell, 1999; Johnstone, 2001; Walsh, 2002; Wells, Ryan & McElwee, 2000).