Journal of Nursing Education

Characteristics of Israeli Women Studying Nursing Compared to Women Studying Education and Engineering

Hadassa Horn, PhD; William L Holzemer, PhD, RN, FAAN

Abstract

ABSTRACT

This study examined the demographic characteristics, vocational personality, and sex-role orientation of Israeli women studying nursing compared to women studying education and engineering. The convenience sample was 176 university students. The instrument included a demographic inventory, Holland's Self-Directed Search (SDS) questionnaire, and the Sex-Role Orientation Attitude questionnaire.

Nursing and education students had Holland's "social" personality types and engineering students were more "realistic" or "investigative." Nursing and engineering students were significantly more feminist in their orientation than education majors. Nursing students were nontraditional women who had traditional family backgrounds, yet were nontraditional in their feminist orientation. With nursing's move into colleges and universities, the need for academically qualified applicants has intensified. Developing a better understanding of the unique nature of nursing and nursing students is a challenge.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

This study examined the demographic characteristics, vocational personality, and sex-role orientation of Israeli women studying nursing compared to women studying education and engineering. The convenience sample was 176 university students. The instrument included a demographic inventory, Holland's Self-Directed Search (SDS) questionnaire, and the Sex-Role Orientation Attitude questionnaire.

Nursing and education students had Holland's "social" personality types and engineering students were more "realistic" or "investigative." Nursing and engineering students were significantly more feminist in their orientation than education majors. Nursing students were nontraditional women who had traditional family backgrounds, yet were nontraditional in their feminist orientation. With nursing's move into colleges and universities, the need for academically qualified applicants has intensified. Developing a better understanding of the unique nature of nursing and nursing students is a challenge.

Introduction

The nursing profession is in the process of changing in recent years with regard to the education that the students receive and the type of person recruited. In the beginning of this century, nurses received poor education, and their training was accomplished through hospital diploma programs. The introduction of nursing education at the junior college level occurred only after World War II (Montag, 1959). With nursing's move into colleges and universities in the second half of this century, the need for academically qualified applicants has intensified. However, it was reported (Chapman & Hölzerner, 1985) that in a sample of 10,000 New York state high school students, those women planning to enter nursing or education had the poorest high school academic performance.

The status of the nursing profession and the type of students who choose this career is also influenced by its image as a female profession (Dachelet, 1978; Meleis & Dagenais, 1981; Wren, 1971). Nursing is viewed as a caring profession and is stereotyped by nurturing roles. While the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s may have broken down barriers in some fields, statistics document that nursing is still predominantly female (National League for Nursing, 1988).

This study was designed to examine nursing students in a university baccalaureate program in Israel and to compare them with female university students enrolled in another traditionally female field of study such as education, and with female university students enrolled in a nontraditional field such as engineering.

Israeli women have not achieved as high a degree of equality within the labor force as have women in other industrial countries like the United States. They are predominantly occupied in roles that are more feminine and nurturing (Padan-Eisenstark, 1973), but equality of the sexes is marked by continuous gains in social balance (Bar-Yosef & Lieblich, 1983). Also, in several crosscultural psychological tests, no significant difference were found between American and Israeli college students (Levin & Kami, 1970; Maloney, Wilkof, & Dambrot, 1981; Peiser, 1984). Therefore, it seems that results obtained with Israeli students can also be applied to students in other countries in the western world.

The following research questions were asked in this study:

1. What is the demographic, social, and cultural profile of female university students enrolled in nursing and is it different from the profile of female students in education or engineering programs?

2. What are the personality characteristics of female university students enrolled in nursing and are they different from those of female university students in education or engineering?

3. What is the perception of sex-role identity of female university students enrolled in nursing and is it different from that of female university students in education or engineering?

Vocational personality characteristics were measured using an instrument constructed by Holland (1959, 1985). He developed a theory about how vocational choices are made, defining a typology of persons and environments, and the interactions between them. A person's achievement, job satisfaction, and social behavior are hypothesized to be determined by the interaction between his or her personality and the characteristics of the environment.

Most people are categorized as belonging to one of the six personality types: realistic (R), investigative (I), artistic (A), social (S), enterprising (E), and conventional (C)- There are also six corresponding environments described by Holland as:

* realistic (R) occupations, including the skilled trades and technical fields;

* investigative (I) occupations, including scientific and some technical careers;

* artistic (A) occupations, involving art, music, and literary fields;

* social (S) occupations, comprising education and social welfare;

* enterprising (E) occupations, including management and sales; and

* conventional (C) occupations, incorporating office and clerical work.

The theory suggests that people seek environments that are compatible with their personality types because these environments let them express their skills, abilities, attitudes, and values.

Occupations and personality type are arranged in a system that uses code letters (RIASEC) corresponding to the personality and occupational types. A three-letter code provides descriptions of each occupation and personality type. For example, the code of SIE for nurses means that they resemble people in social, investigative, and enterprising occupations. The order of the letter codes indicates the intensity of the choice, i.e., S is more powerful than I, I than E, etc. According to Holland (1985), different subspecialties in the field of nursing have different three-letter codes, but most of them have the social component first. Teachers also usually have the social component first, while engineers have either the investigative or the realistic component first. This study used Holland's theory of vocational choice to assess personality characteristics related to career choice.

Methods

Design

A survey design was used to describe the relationship among sociodemographic variables, personality types, sex-role identity, and the career choices of Israeli female university students. Questionnaires were presented to Israeli students at two institutions of higher education either during class time or while waiting for registration at the beginning of the term. The questionnaires completed during class time were collected immediately by one of the investigators, and those completed during registration were mailed to one of the investigators by the registrar.

Setting

The convenience sample was drawn from female students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. The Hebrew University had about 14,000 students in 1987 in all fields of study except engineering. The sample students from the Hebrew University were female undergraduate students from the schools of nursing and education. Upon the recommendation of the heads of the two schools, questionnaires were administered during class time to classes with 20 to 40 students who had completed at least one year of school (in order to eliminate students who change their field of study after the first year). The intent of the study and its voluntary, anonymous nature were explained to the students. Students in the school of education who took exact sciences as their second field of study in order to become science teachers were asked not to complete the questionnaire.

The Technion had about 8,000 students in 1987, mainly in different fields of engineering. For this study, the questionnaire was given to female undergraduate students in the faculties of electrical, mechanical, and aeronautical engineering while waiting for registration at the beginning of the term. Signs on the wall asked them to complete the questionnaires at the registration desk and then give them to the secretary. Attached to the questionnaire was a letter explaining the study and its voluntary and anonymous nature, and also a letter from the dean recommending that students fill out the forms. The first 65 questionnaires completed by female students were mailed to the investigator. The total number of undergraduate students in these faculties was 130 females and 2,200 males in 1987.

Sample

The total sample included 176 female Israeli university students studying nursing, education, and engineering. Except for four students in a master's program, all (N= 172) were studying for their bachelor's degree. The three groups were:

* female students from the school of nursing at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (ra-52) studying for a bachelor's degree in two hospitals (Hadassah and Assaf Harofeh),

* female students from the school of education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (« = 60) who all took education and an additional major in liberal arts or social science, and

* female engineering students (n - 64) from the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, who were majoring in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or aeronautical engineering, including two female students majoring in computer sciences from the Hebrew University.

Instruments

Biographical Inventory Items (n = 30) assessed demographic, social, and cultural variables as well as the academic record in high school, academic inspirations, and field of study at the university. Fifteen of the items were in fixed format, nine in an open-ended, limited-response space, and six were open-ended questions. The inventory was in Hebrew and the time to complete the questionnaire was 5 to 7 minutes.

Holland's Self-Directed Search (SDS) (1979) in a Hebrew version was used. The SDS is an instrument for individual or group vocational counseling that was previously translated into Hebrew and used in Israel, and also tested for cross-cultural invariance between Israeli and American students (Peiser, 1984). The respondent answers likes or dislikes to 66 different activities, 66 competencies, and 84 interests and also gives two selfestimates of competencies. From these answers, six summary scores (R, I, A, S, E, C) are calculated. The SDS code for each individual is determined by the three highest scores out of the six RIASEC scores. Studies have supported the construct validity of Holland's instrument for college students in the United States (Holland, 1979) and in Israel (Peiser, 1984). The time required to complete the SDS questionnaire was 10 to 12 minutes; it was hand-scored.

For data analysis in this study, Holland's personality types were classified into two groups; these were R/I (realistic/investigative) and A/S/E/C (artistic/social/ enterprising/conventional). R/I scored either highest on R; highest on I with an R as second or third highest; or highest on A, S, E, or C but had both R and I as second or third highest. A/S/E/C contained all the subjects not included in the R/I group, namely: scored highest on A, S, E, or C except for those having both R and I as second or third highest; and scored highest on I but not having R as second or third highest.

Index of Sex-Role Orientation (ISRO), a 16-item attitude questionnaire, measures one's degree of feminism or sex-role orientation (Dreyer, Woods, & James, 1981). Response options range on a Likert-type scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, with low scores (1) assigned to traditional, nonfeminist female orientation, and high scores (5) to nontraditional women with strong feminist sex-role orientation. Six of the items are reversed in scoring. The ISRO scale was reported to have a reliability coefficient of 0.92 and construct validity and content validity were established. Time to complete the questionnaire was four to five minutes.

Results

The results are divided into four sections including demographic variables, Holland's categories, sex-role orientation, and interactions.

Demographic variables

The mean age of the 52 female nursing students was 25 (range 21 to 38); 73% were single, 25% were married, and none had children. About 42% lived in a rented or self-owned apartment, 33% lived with their parents, and the remainder lived in a dormitory. Many of them (44%) worked all year, about 40% had a summer job, and 15% did not work at all (Table 1). Most of the nursing students (74%) were born in Israel, 49% were first-born, and the others were almost equally divided between middle-born and last-born.

The mean number of brothers and sisters was 1.27 (SD= 1.11) and 1.2 (SD = 0.95), respectively. About 52% of their fathers and 46% of their mothers were born in the West, 21% and 29% (respectively) in Israel, and about 27% of both fathers and mothers were born in the Middle East (Asia or Africa). According te their estimation, the income of their parents was high (8%), medium (86%), or low (6%). The mean number of rooms in their parents' apartment (excluding the kitchen) was 4.0 (SD = 1.0).

Twenty-seven percent (14 of 52) of the nurses' fathers and 17% (9 of 52) of their mothers had a university degree; 16% of the fathers and 31% of the mothers did not finish high school. Their fathers were predominantly blue-collar workers (36%) and professionals (23%). Half of the professionals were teachers and the others were economists, lawyers, scientists, etc. The predominant professions of their mothers were teaching (23%) and nursing (12%), which was included in the category of professionals. When adding to these figures the 23% of mothers who were housewives, 58% of them had very traditional female occupations (Table 1).

Table

TABLE 1Demographic Variables Comparing Female Nursing, Education, and Engineering Students

TABLE 1

Demographic Variables Comparing Female Nursing, Education, and Engineering Students

Table

TABLE 2High School Performance Measures and the Total ISRO Scale

TABLE 2

High School Performance Measures and the Total ISRO Scale

In the high school system in Israel, students can elect to study different subjects at different levels from three points (the lowest), to five points (the highest). About half of the nursing students had majored in life sciences and the other half in liberal arts and social sciences in high school at the five-point level. Sixty-four percent (29 of 45) completed the highest level of exams (five points) for English, and 53% completed the lowest level (three points) for mathematics. Very few (11%) took any physics (Table 1). The nursing students' final exam averages in high school were: 79% in mathematics (without considering the level), 74.4% in English, and 79.7% overall (Table 2).

The history of army service, which is mandatory for girls at the age of 18 in Israel, gives an additional aspect of their performance. Seventy-seven percent (40 of 52) completed their army service, and most of the rest were in a program called "national service." Only one student was an officer; most of them had an administrative job (60%) or were in instruction (24%) (Table 1).

One part of the questionnaire included items on the attitudes of the students and their future plans. Most of the respondents (77%) chose their field of study, nursing, because they were interested and liked it, and 9% wanted the degree in order to work in their chosen profession. When reporting on future plans, about 54% wanted to work in their profession, 28% planned to study for a higher degree, and 7% mentioned the possibility of having a family. About half of them considered the possibility of teaching. The highest academic degree that they planned to obtain was: bachelor's (19%), master's (49%), and PhD (33%).

There were no significant differences between nursing and education majors on most of the demographic variables studied, including aspirations and future plans (Tables 1 and 2). Differences were in the following variables: The education students were older (p<0.00), mean age 26 years (range 20 to 46); 68% of them worked all year (p<0.01); there was a difference (Kendall's tau c<0.05) in father's education, i.e., 40% of the fathers of education majors did not graduate from high school. There was a difference in their high school major (p<0.01), with 62% of education majors taking the highest level in liberal arts and social sciences.

There were no significant differences between female nursing and engineering students regarding the following demographic variables: age, marital status, housing, working situation, place of birth, order in the family, number of sisters and brothers, number of rooms in parents' apartment (or house), and place of birth. There was a difference regarding children because none of the engineering students was a mother. Also, the income of the parents of engineering students was higher (p<0.04), and 50% of the fathers and 33% of the mothers had university degrees (p<0.04 and p<0.03, respectively). There was a significant difference (p<0.00) in fathers' occupations, where the dominant profession (41%) was engineering or architecture (Table 1); however, there was no significant difference in mothers' occupation, with teacher being the dominant profession in both groups.

The high school performance of the engineering students was significantly better than that of the nursing students (Table 2); most of them majored in the exact sciences at the highest level (Table 1). Also, the army performance of the engineering students was different.

Table

TABLE 3Holland's SDS Variables Comparing Nursing Students (n=52) with Education (n = 60) and Engineering Students (n = 64)

TABLE 3

Holland's SDS Variables Comparing Nursing Students (n=52) with Education (n = 60) and Engineering Students (n = 64)

There was no significant difference between the two groups regarding future plans; none of them mentioned the possibility of having a family, but fewer of the engineering students considered the possibility of teaching (p<0.01). There was no difference between the groups in the reason they chose their field of study.

Holland's SDS

The nursing, education, and engineering students were classified into the RIASEC personality types according to Holland's SDS (Table 3). The classification of scores on the Holland's SDS by subject groups were in the predicted directions.

The social (S) personality type was selected first by 32 nursing students, second by nine students, and third by five students. Altogether, 88% (46 of 52) of the nursing students had the social personality type. More than half of the nursing students had the artistic (n - 31) and investigative (n =29) personality types, mostly as second or third choice. The most common three-digit personality codes for 18 of the 52 students in this group were, in descending order, SEA, SAR, SIR, and SRA; there were 27 additional combinations, each characterizing one or two students.

Of the education students, 90% (54 of 60) had the social (S) personality type selected: 33 selected it first, 18 as a second choice, and three as a third choice. More than half of these students had the artistic (n = 37) and enterprising (n = 34) personality types, mostly as second or third choices. The most common three-digit personality codes in this group were, in descending order, SEA, SAE, and ESA. Holland's classification showed no significant difference between the education and nursing students.

Twenty-five of the engineering students scored highest on the investigative (I) personality type, 20 scored it second, and 12 scored it third. Altogether, 89% (57 of 64) had the investigative personality type. The realistic (R) personality type was found in 52 (81%) engineering students: 25 scored it first, 18 scored it second, and nine scored it third. More than half of the engineering students had the social (n = 35) and artistic (n = 34) personality type, mostly as the third choice. The most common three-digit combinations in this group were, in descending order, RIS, IRA, RAI, IRS, RIA, and AIR. There was a significant difference between the engineering and nursing students (p<0.00, p<0.02, and p<0.03 for the first, second, and third choice, respectively).

Index of Sex- Role Orientation (ISRO)

The ISRO questionnaire was completed by 174 female students: 51 in nursing, 63 in engineering, and 60 in education. A factor analysis was conducted to examine the ISRO. Although a four-factor solution was obtained with eigenvalues greater than 1.0, which explained 64.4% of the variance, the obtained factors were not interpretable. Therefore, a decision was made to use the total ISRO score and not continue to use the factor scores in the further analysis. The overall Cronbach's alpha for the ISRO in this sample was 0.86.

The mean ISRO score for the female nursing students was similar to that of the engineering students and significantly higher (p<0.00) than that for the education students (Table 2). Nursing and engineering students were more feminist in their orientation than education students. A separate multiple regression analysis demonstrated that the father's or mother's education was not a significant predictor of the student's ISRO score. When the distribution of ISRO raw scores for all students was divided at the median, 53% of the nursing students, 59% of the engineering students, and only 38% of the education students were above the median, i.e., classified as feminists.

Table

TABLE 4Summary of 3 (Nursing, Education, and Engineering) × 2 (Holland's SDS Classification*) ANOVA With ISRO as the Dependent Variable

TABLE 4

Summary of 3 (Nursing, Education, and Engineering) × 2 (Holland's SDS Classification*) ANOVA With ISRO as the Dependent Variable

A 3 × 2 analysis of variance was calculated comparing major (nursing, education, and engineering) by Holland's type (R/I vs. other) with sex-role orientation as the dependent variable (Table 4). The students with R/I vocational personalities were more feminist. Engineering and nursing majors were more feminist than education majors. There were no significant interactions.

Discussion

This study explored the characteristics of female university nursing students and how these characteristics were similar or different from female students who choose education or engineering as their major in Israeli universities. Nursing students were compared to education students for several reasons: Both occupations are "feminine" in their nature, having to do with caring for people. According to Holland's classification (1985), people who work in these two fields have a strong "social" element in their personality as well as in the environment they work in. This study showed that, as expected, there was no significant difference between nursing and education students with regard to Holland's classification, and both groups actually had a strong "social" element in their personality.

Another similarity between the two occupations, nursing and education, is that they attract students with poorer academic background in high school compared to other career choices (Chapman & Hölzerner, 1985). In this study, nursing and education majors had similar performance in high school in most of the variables tested. Both groups did not do as well academically as engineering students in high school. However, nursing students differed from education students by the fact that almost half of them majored in chemistry and/or biology in high school. This shows that students who opt for nursing understand the importance of science in their education. One could question the reasons for the poor achievement of nursing and education students in high school. Is it lack of talent, or lack of parents' support, or are parents unable to serve as role models because of low level of education?

Another question asked regarding female nursing and education students is their perception of sex-role identity. Since those two occupations are sex-role-typed as "feminine," it was interesting to know what the women who chose them thought of the following: (1) male- female division of responsibility; (2) conflicts between having children and having a career; and (3) sex-role issues involving work outside home. Female nursing students scored higher on the feminist scale of ISRO than the education majors. Their nontraditional sex-role orientation does not appear to correspond with their traditional career choice of nursing. However, it corresponds with traits like independent decision-making and expertise in technical skills, which are labeled as "masculine" but are also required from modera nurses.

Female nursing students also were compared in this study to female engineering students for the following reasons. Engineering is a traditional "masculine" occupation. Women tend to be underrepresented in this occupation and also in training for it in the western world, including Israel (Horn, Hölzerner, & Meléis, 1990). Some of the qualities required for this occupation are a sufficient background in mathematics and science, technical talent, and a nontraditional attitude. Initially, it appears that engineering students should be completely different from students who opt for nursing. On the other hand, one should remember that modern nursing is not only a caring profession. It demands also a background in life sciences and, preferably, in exact sciences. The work setting of nurses requires autonomous professionals with "masculine" traits such as independent decision-making, excellence in technical skills, and extensive knowledge base for practice.

Engineering students were different from nursing students in Holland's personality types. Most of them had the "realistic" or "investigative" personality types. Nursing students did not do as well academically as engineering students in high school and there was a difference with regard to their parents. The observation that female engineering students had parents who had higher educational levels and more technically oriented occupations was expected (Ware, Steckler, & Leserman, 1985). It is interesting that there was no significant difference between nursing and engineering students with regard to the index of sex-role orientation. Both groups were nontraditional in their feminist orientation. They favored equality between the sexes in the division of labor at home, they wanted work outside the home, and they saw no conflict between child-rearing and women's careers.

There are three important limitations to this study. First, the issue of generalizability must be raised with a convenience sample. Second, the results must be cautiously applied to U.S. nursing education literature without cross-validation of the findings. Third, there is a potential limitation of the cultural appropriateness of the instruments. Both the Holland's and the sex-role orientation were developed in the U.S. culture and although translated appropriately into Hebrew, it is possible that the constructs being measured may not transfer so readily across the cultures.

Developing a better understanding among the general public, and particularly career counselors, of the unique nature of nursing is a challenge. Nursing attracted nontraditional women who were traditional in their family background, yet nontraditional in their feminist orientation. With nursing's move into colleges and universities, the need for academically qualified applicants has intensified. In order to ensure a qualified applicant pool, it is important for the general public and for career counselors to understand the nature of nursing as well as the academic requirements of nursing.

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TABLE 1

Demographic Variables Comparing Female Nursing, Education, and Engineering Students

TABLE 2

High School Performance Measures and the Total ISRO Scale

TABLE 3

Holland's SDS Variables Comparing Nursing Students (n=52) with Education (n = 60) and Engineering Students (n = 64)

TABLE 4

Summary of 3 (Nursing, Education, and Engineering) × 2 (Holland's SDS Classification*) ANOVA With ISRO as the Dependent Variable

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