Students curious about the nursing profession need accurate knowledge to make an informed career decision. Those untouched by the profession rely heavily on the media to interpret nursing practice. Youth, in particular, can be greatly influenced by afternoon soap operas or nighttime television where nurses exhibit little decision-making ability, wear suggestive clothing, and act as handmaidens to the physician. The media is exposing potential nursing school applicants to a false image of nursing. This negative impression has cost the profession dearly.
Between 1983 and 1987, the number of nursing school graduates declined as did enrollment in nursing schools. The current nursing shortage is the result. Although some statistics show an increase in student enrollment, many schools have reduced their requirements to attract applicants who ultimately have lesser qualifications, with obvious detrimental implications Green, 1987).
To survive as a viable profession, nursing must attract bright, enthusiastic, caring individuals. One approach to rectify the false image portrayed by the media is to expose potential applicants to what the nursing profession is really like.
At Bellin College of Nursing, potential applicants are given this opportunity. What better way to learn about nurses than to accompany them in the hospital setting? Ten years ago, a unique program was developed and continues to grow: participants observe registered nurses and interact with nursing students on a college campus.
Participants in the Day with a Nurse program are greeted by a faculty member who reviews the objectives and agenda for the morning's experience. They are reminded to envision themselves in the nursing role, to see if it "fits" their goals and ideas. Since they observe a clinical setting, the importance of confidentiality is stressed. Participants are also told to notify the faculty member should they feel ill or unable to continue in their observational role. The participants are provided with lab coats and identifying name tags and escorted to the clinical units where they are introduced to the registered nurse they wul observe. A maximum of two students per unit is preferred. These nurses have been selected by their nurse managers as exemplifying professional characteristics as well as enthusiasm for nursing. Prospective applicants stay with this clinical nurse for approximately 3 hours. During this observation, they walk in the footsteps of a nurse on a typical (and non-rehearsed) day. Whenever possible, personal preferences for areas of observation are honored.
After the observational experience, the faculty member meets with participants and facilitates discussion regarding the day's events. Most likely, the participants are familiar with nurses ha physician's offices and in their schools. Their morning experience acquaints them with hospital routines and staff nurse responsibilities. They are given an opportunity to ask questions and to clarify perceptions and/or misconceptions. To further their exposure to nursing, a movie titled Nursing: The Challenge of a Lifetime (produced by the National League for Nursing) is shown. In this film, nurses in a variety of settings, from home health to critical care, discuss the reasons they selected nursing and the personal benefits they see in this profession. Career opportunities and job flexibility are portrayed in a very positive manner.
The last phase of this program involves an informal lunch with a student currently in nursing. The objective of this phase ia to allow the participant to explore the collegiate experience from a nursing student's perspective. Conversation centers around topics such as course work, university life, study demands, and other concerns facing college students.
The Coordinator's Role
The success of the program is largely dependent on the selection of a coordinator who has strong communication and organizational skills. This individual oversees the program by coordinating and facilitating activities between the college, high school counselors, and hospital management, facilitation of clerical and public relations activities is included in this role. Correspondence with the school counselors, prospective applicants, hospital administration, and others must be timely and is a critical component in the smooth execution of this project. Internal arrangements such as room and audio-visual reservations and refreshments are overseen as well.
Equally crucial to the success of this venture is the collaboration between the hospital and the college. The college coordinator and nursing managers cooperatively plan the annual schedule. Faculty volunteers are solicited early in the academic year for a specific date. One week before this date, the coordinator meets with the faculty member to review program objectives and sends a memo to the involved units identifying the participants who will be attending. This communication finalizes preparations and ensures smooth execution the day of the program.
Feedback is provided to nurse managers biannually. During these meetings relevant facts, such as number of participants and number of applicants, are discussed. The commitment, cooperation, and contributions of the nursing staffare recognized. Since staff involvement is an integral part of the program, their participation in these meetings is essential.
Consumer awareness of the Day with a Nurse Program is facilitated via a concise descriptive pamphlet that is strategically marketed. The pamphlet is included in college fair displays, enabling parents as well as students to learn about the program. It is sent to both public and parochial high school counselors statewide, as well as being described in the high school counselor's manual. It is also included with mailings responding to inquiries about the college. In addition, the pamphlet is distributed to area newcomers with other community information.
Evaluations are completed by the program participants at the end of the experience. The offerings are seen as very positive and are described as a valuable experience for reasons such as:
"It has helped me understand what nursing is all about."
"You hear so much about nurse burn-out and stress and this experience gives you a porthole view of what really happens."
This experience definitely helped me learn more about the nursing occupation. It was very helpful in making my choice."
"It was interesting and never really boring."
When asked why the experience gave them a realistic picture of nursing, some of the responses included:
"Because it showed you what skills a nurse practices, and it gave the real thing, not a television image."
"You got a real one-on-one experience so you are not having to guess what the future will hold. You find out how valuable you are as a nurse."
'This experience was helpful in seeing what the nurse's day is like. I can definitely see why the nurses choose to stay in the nursing profession."
"Watching television, a person may see a hospital as a wild place. There is a lot going on but it isn't as they portray it on television."
Recommendations by participants to improve the program consist primarily of lengthening it to include an entire day rather than a half day, and possibly rotating each participant to several units. Negative comments are rarely received. It is significant to note that all responses are enthusiastic and appreciative.
Faculty and hospital staff involved in the program find it is a positive opportunity to interact with consumers to promote nursing. Because nursing is often very different than the image portrayed by contemporary media, some faculty feel that they can dispel myths, verify truths, and point out the wide variety of career opportunities a nursing degree provides. Faculty are committed to the idea of being one of the first to acquaint students with the positive aspects of nursing. One faculty member commented that students often expect intense drama and "blood and guts" experiences, but are relieved to discover that nursing is not always so melodramatic. All participating faculty believe that this experiential learning helps the prospective student make an informed choice or reinforces a previous decision. Registered nurses from the hospital who volunteer to participate see this as a great opportunity to promote an image of nursing as it really is. One stated that it is a good "eye opener overall."
This program attests to the link that can be fostered between service and education settings. By enabling hospital nurses to participate in recruitment, collaboration between education and service is enhanced. The practicing nurse is provided with a unique opportunity to interact with a prospective student. This interaction intensifies the commitment of professional nurses to nursing by enabling them to share their distinct contributions. The participant in the Day with a Nurse Program sees a "real nurse" doing "real nursing." Everything is real: the environment, the demands, the responsibilities, and the patient contact.
Grossman, Arnold, Sullivan, et al (1989) studied the perceptions of high school students about nursing and explored the relationship between the experience of having a nursing role model and the decision to consider nursing as a career. They state: "There is a significant relationship between the experience of having a nursing role model and students' decision to consider nursing as a career" (p.21). Written and verbal feedback regarding this program supports these findings. Recent statistics indicate that up to one third of the participants of Day with a Nurse applied to Bellin College of Nursing. Service and education can work together to enrich the profession and strengthen its numbers through such collaboration.
- Green, K. (1987). What the freshmen tell us. American Journal of Nursing, 87(12), 16101615.
- Grossman, D., Arnold, L., Sullivan, J., Cameron, M.E., & Munro, B. (1989). High school students' perceptions of nursing as a career: A pilot study. Journal of Nursing Education, 28(1), 18-21.