Journal of Nursing Education

Developing an awareness of research in nursing education in PUERTO RICO

Abstract

The education of nursing students in a collegiate program which is foreign to the instructor can be a stimulating and exciting experience. Initially, differences in language and culture create a chasm between the instructor and students which, on "blue days," seems too enormous to span. But with the end of a brief adjustment period, these feelings are displaced by a need to become involved, and immediately the new instructor finds herself overwhelmed by multiple questions. Doubts and confusion follow, and perhaps a spirit of skepticism develops. This was my experience and the mental state in which I found myself after a brief residence at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico where I had come to teach Maternal and Child Health Nursing.

By their very nature, classes in Maternal and Child Health are family-centered, and the family-centered discussions that arose during our classes unveiled confusion and misconceptions about the family and family life in Puerto Rico. This was especially true of the role of the father. The differences in the interpretation of this role by the instructor and the students soon made it a favorite ventilating point. The students were not able to recognize the role of the father in Puerto Rico as I knew his role to be in the United States and as I described it from my personal and educational experiences. Some students voiced opinions that appeared distorted in an effort to help me understand the attitude the Puerto Rican father entertains regarding himself, the attitude the family has toward him, his supreme position of authority within the family, and his lack of responsibility in family and community living. Some students used personal examples, and others brought newspaper clippings and magazine articles to demonstrate and emphasize their points of view. The opinions and reactions of the male students were in complete agreement with those of the girls. If I were to continue effectively as the instructor in Maternal and Child Health Nursing, I had no alternative but to understand clearly the role of the father as it was accepted by Puerto Ricans. The surest way to do this was to ask the fathers themselves what they believed their role to be, and it seemed that this would be best achieved by a cooperative research project developed by the students under the direction and supervision of the instructor.

The students responded favorably and even energetically to the novel idea of conducting a survey, and they agreed that it could benefit them by clarifying their ideas about the role of the father, by influencing them to change their attitudes as indicated, and by offering them the new experience of participating in a research project. They were thus motivated to begin the project enthusiastically, to progress cooperatively, and to conclude it zestfully for the sake of their own personal fulfillment. The work ahead was to be time-consuming, but it was to be pleasant and productive as well.

A second reason for my interest in developing this project was more significant than clarifying the role of the father in Puerto Rico, although this was necessary. I had been searching for a suitable topic that might provide my students with the opportunity of being exposed to the principles of research in the hope that they might develop an interest in and a sincere appreciation for it. A brief exposure to the principles of research could have salutary effects and perhaps stimulate an inquisitive mind to delve, at a later date, into more concentrated areas than the present topic demanded.

A shortage of time for the project and the students' lack of previous experience…

The education of nursing students in a collegiate program which is foreign to the instructor can be a stimulating and exciting experience. Initially, differences in language and culture create a chasm between the instructor and students which, on "blue days," seems too enormous to span. But with the end of a brief adjustment period, these feelings are displaced by a need to become involved, and immediately the new instructor finds herself overwhelmed by multiple questions. Doubts and confusion follow, and perhaps a spirit of skepticism develops. This was my experience and the mental state in which I found myself after a brief residence at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico where I had come to teach Maternal and Child Health Nursing.

By their very nature, classes in Maternal and Child Health are family-centered, and the family-centered discussions that arose during our classes unveiled confusion and misconceptions about the family and family life in Puerto Rico. This was especially true of the role of the father. The differences in the interpretation of this role by the instructor and the students soon made it a favorite ventilating point. The students were not able to recognize the role of the father in Puerto Rico as I knew his role to be in the United States and as I described it from my personal and educational experiences. Some students voiced opinions that appeared distorted in an effort to help me understand the attitude the Puerto Rican father entertains regarding himself, the attitude the family has toward him, his supreme position of authority within the family, and his lack of responsibility in family and community living. Some students used personal examples, and others brought newspaper clippings and magazine articles to demonstrate and emphasize their points of view. The opinions and reactions of the male students were in complete agreement with those of the girls. If I were to continue effectively as the instructor in Maternal and Child Health Nursing, I had no alternative but to understand clearly the role of the father as it was accepted by Puerto Ricans. The surest way to do this was to ask the fathers themselves what they believed their role to be, and it seemed that this would be best achieved by a cooperative research project developed by the students under the direction and supervision of the instructor.

The students responded favorably and even energetically to the novel idea of conducting a survey, and they agreed that it could benefit them by clarifying their ideas about the role of the father, by influencing them to change their attitudes as indicated, and by offering them the new experience of participating in a research project. They were thus motivated to begin the project enthusiastically, to progress cooperatively, and to conclude it zestfully for the sake of their own personal fulfillment. The work ahead was to be time-consuming, but it was to be pleasant and productive as well.

A second reason for my interest in developing this project was more significant than clarifying the role of the father in Puerto Rico, although this was necessary. I had been searching for a suitable topic that might provide my students with the opportunity of being exposed to the principles of research in the hope that they might develop an interest in and a sincere appreciation for it. A brief exposure to the principles of research could have salutary effects and perhaps stimulate an inquisitive mind to delve, at a later date, into more concentrated areas than the present topic demanded.

A shortage of time for the project and the students' lack of previous experience in the field of research were disadvantages which established limitations for us but permitted us adequate opportunities to learn general basic principles. It was not our intention to become scientific research specialists, for this was not even a course in research. On the other hand, an advantage enjoyed by the students was their ability to incorporate facts from the social sciences and the humanities as background for family living. We drew up a project plan which would supply us with a common understanding of the problem to be investigated and knowledge of the possible contribution the findings could make to nursing education. Our investigation of the role of the father in Puerto Rico was to be made according to the criteria established by research authorities. After an intensive search, we had to admit that the role of the father in Puerto Rico had never been delineated, so we turned our attention to literature dealing with the role of the father in the United States. Ideas derived from literature on this topic led us to recognize aspects which we considered important for investigation and which served as the basis for the questionnaire we now felt prepared to develop.

We had to experiment with question construction in an effort to produce the type of question we wanted to formulate and which would elicit meaningful responses. We were keenly aware of the dangerous effect the wording of the question might unconsciously have on the responses. For the sake of validity, we tried not to influence them. We hoped rather to encourage spontaneity and sincerity. Believing that a simple type of questionnaire would motivate fathers to cooperate more than a complicated one requiring the essay type of responses, we decided to use a check list with headings such as "Always, Usually, Sometimes, Never." A few introductory questions were included in order to obtain background information and to establish rapport with the informant. For the remainder, we centered our attention on questions that dealt with every aspect of family fife: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, socioeconomic, and educational. We not only included the relationship of the father to his children and wife in the home, but also his relationships with his associates in the community. Because it was the area of greatest interest to us, we dealt at length on the responsibility of the father for child training and character formation. The questionnaire was prepared in Spanish -the native language in Puerto Rico.

The remaining weeks of the semester were far too few to permit sample questionnaires to be distributed, collected, and analyzed. The students, therefore, compromised by discussing the questions with men in their families and communities who were not going to participate in the study. They worked assiduously, and overnight revised, reconstructed, and rearranged the questions on the questionnaire. All the students made contributions, and new ideas considered more suitable for eliciting information about attitudes and opinions of fathers were incorporated into the questionnaire. The final draft was then compiled and prepared for distribution.

The students chose to distribute the questionnaires among fathers of various educational levels and selected acquaintances ranging from those with no formal education to those with masters degrees and professional training. Naturally, the father's type of employment varied according to his level of preparation. Laborers, both skilled and unskilled, clerks, salesmen, and professionals were representative of the group. One hundred and twenty questionnaires were distributed within the city proper. We recognized that our choice in distributing the questionnaires in the city instead of in the outlying country districts, or in a combination of these, affected the validity of the data, but about this time the students were demonstrating more interest in the principles of research than in trying to determine the role of the father in Puerto Rico. The importance of the validity of the data was therefore accepted as secondary to the importance of the learning experience the project was providing for the students involved.

Eighty-two percent of the questionnaires were completed and returned. We kept close watch on the number coming in each day, and eventually chided ourselves for daring to believe the Puerto Rican father to be uncooperative in participating in community activities. While compiling the questionnaire, the entire class had worked together, and all members had been active in identifying and coping with the problems that arose. For the tabulation, however, we deemed it more advantageous to group into committees. Cooperating in small groups offers educational benefits different from the benefits derived from working in a large group. Among the reasons given by the students for their decision to work in small groups at this time were the following: (1) a more workable atmosphere is created for the sharing of ideas, (2) a better discussion environment is obtained, and (3) interpersonal relations and communication skills are more readily improved

The data readily lent itself for division into three sections: physical-educational, emotional-psychological, and socioeconomic-religious. Each group functioned independently, but at regular intervals the class met as a unit so that all members were kept informed of the total progress. The large group meetings were always refreshing. Without apparent effort, the students were developing abilities for leadership and team organization. And I should like to add here that the meetings, for the most part, were conducted during the students' free time - quite a sacrifice for busy junior college students. Usually during these assemblies, my role was reduced to that of counselor. The students proved themselves capable of handling the business at hand with comparative ease and facility.

When the final tabulations were revealed, we received several surprises; for example, the average family has two to four children and not eight to ten as we had erroneously believed. Approximately 71 per cent of the fathers do participate regularly in family budgeting and in community activities. Puerto Rican fathers believe that they share responsibility almost equally with their wives for the character formation of the children, and they are aware of their duty for setting a good example in the home and in the community. They admitted, however, that they fail seriously in meeting their obligations for the formal and religious education of their children.

Just as every new undertaking is an occasion for learning, so this initial experience in research had educational advantages for the students at Catholic University. It is gratifying to observe them as they develop new attitudes regarding the role of the father in the community. Until this time, the father's role had been considered a passive one; now his activities, interests, and responsibilities within the family and the community have taken on new significance for the students involved. They have begun to see the father as a human being functioning efficiently and sharing life's joys and sorrows with his family. As never before, they realize the importance of the fatherchild relationship, so necessary for the character formation and development of the child. Applying these concepts to their personal lives they realized, perhaps for the first time, the importance of choosing the right marriage partner.

Aside from the benefits derived from an analysis of the findings of the study, the students have also had opportunities to develop leadership, to improve communication skills, to increase their capacity for cooperating in group dynamics and their ability for self-expression, to build a vocabulary relating to research, and to gain insight into the significance of research, thereby overcoming some of their awe and dread of it. All these values derived from the project are student-centered and relate directly to the learning of the student. Other values, however, contributing to nursing education generally may also be deduced: (1) Students can be taught basic principles of research while simultaneously covering course content in other areas. (2) Students can enjoy the stimulation offered by research. (3) Students willingly give of themselves, their time, and their talent, when adequately motivated.

Applying their new attitudes to nursing in the pediatric area, the students who participated in the project have made their teaching father-oriented. The needs of the father are being utilized as a baseline for parent education, and the father is being encouraged to vocalize his concerns and to develop a better relationship with his children. These attitudes are also being carried into non-nursing areas by students who have incorporated information from this project into classes in psychology and the humanities. In a few instances, entire term papers have been devoted to the role of the father in Puerto Rico. All this suggests that an awareness of research in nursing education has developed among these students. With additional education and experience it is hoped that some of them will go on to develop a greater skill and interest in nursing research.

Comments

The NLN Convention in San Francisco this spring was a particularly pleasant occasion for the members of the JNE publishing staff in attendance. We were very pleased to have an opportunity to meet and talk with so many of our readers during the meetings, and since this is the first post-convention issue of the Journal, we would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who stopped by the McGraw-Hill exhibit in Brooks Hall for your enthusiastic comments and continued interest in JNE. We are pleased to continue making it available to you.

10.3928/0148-4834-19650801-06

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