Journal of Nursing Education

RESEARCH BRIEFS 

Why Undertake Higher Degrees in Nursing?

Dianne Pelletier, RN, BSN, BEdStud, MSciSoc, DipEd, FCN(NSW), FRCNA; Judith Donoghue, RN, RM BA(Hons), PhD, DNE, FCN(NSW); Christine Duffield, RN, BSN, MHP, PhD, FCN(NSW), FCHSE; Anne Adams, RN, BA, MA, DNE, FCN(NSW), FRCNA; Diane Brown, RN, BAppSc(UC), MCN(NSW), MRCNA

Abstract

New South Wales (NSW) was the first state in Australia to transfer undergraduate nursing education to the higher education sector with programe commencing in 1985. This move accelerated the demand for and growth of graduate studies in nursing. Nevertheless, Australian nurses still have fewer graduate qualifications than some countries, most notably the United States. A profile of studente and their reasons for undertaking study at the graduate level in the Australian nursing context are unknown. As courses continue to develop and proliferate it is important for educational planners to determine factors -which motivate applicants, obstacles that might impede their progression, and anticipated career plans. This study was conducted at a large metropolitan university in Sydney where there was a large population of ENs with considerable experience and seniority but who did not hold undergraduate qualifications enabling entry to graduate studies. The university permitted entry to graduate programe for many of these experienced nurses ueing ite policies OQ the recognition of prior learning (RPL). The RPL considers previous formal and informal studies, work experience, professional contribution, and completion of non-award courses. The aims of the study were to determine the factors which motivated nurses to enter graduate studies and those perceived to hinder their progression. In addition, data on the students' career plans and their experiences with mento ring prior to enrollment were sought.

Background

At the time of the study, the preregistration nursing qualification had moved to a degree program which inevitably preseured certified RNs to increase their qualifications. Studies suggest "professional servi-vai" (Carlisle, 1991, p. 296) ia a major contributing factor to nurses undertaking further study (Carlisle, 1991; Hillsmith, 1978; Watson & WeUs, 1987). Hospitaltrained nurses believe gaining a tertiary degree is a way of gaining social recognition for the knowledge and skills previously acquired (Hillsmith, 1978; Myco, 1984) or to maintain standards of practice and professional development (Chapman & Hall, 1992). Other reasons cited for undertaking further education includes improving patient care and gaining more clinical experience (Vinal & Whitman, 1994); enhancing basic training and increasing understanding, particularly in the intensive care and high-technology areas (Winson, 1993); and personal development and growth (Fraser & Titherington, 1991). Registered nurses who undertake further study may experience negative reactions from other nurses. For example, hue managers may feel threatened CReid, Mgllts, & Boore, 1987), and RN coworkers may feel resentment, suspicion, hostility, or prejudice (OTBrien, 1984). Negative reactions reflect an anti-intellectual and anti-educational tradition within the nursing profession (Armstrong-Esther & Myco, 1987; Brooking, Howard, & Terry, 1989).

The concept of motivation may be used to explain variations in studente' capabilities. A number of studies used this construct to explore reasons RNs seek further education. For example, Thurber (1988) found RNs were motivated by career advancement and opportunities offered through access to higher education. In contrast, Lethbridge (1989) describes three main motivational factors; professional development, increased knowledge, and improved social skills. Carmody (1982) found nurses were concerned with status and prestige, and these factors along with increased knowledge, social welfare skills, and professional advancement were the main motivators for upgrading qualifications. In 1978, Hillsmith found the main motivator to be personal satisfaction (84%), followed by better job opportunities and increased professional competence. Similarly, Watson and Wetls (1987) found professional growth, personal growth, and professional socialization -were the main motivators to pursue study through the master's level.

Method

This study is an exploratory longitudinal survey of four consecutive cohorts of students enrolled ill graduate studies in nursing at a large Sydney university from 1990 to 1993 (inclusive). AU students, a total of 666, were invited to complete the motivational questionnaire on enrollment. A…

New South Wales (NSW) was the first state in Australia to transfer undergraduate nursing education to the higher education sector with programe commencing in 1985. This move accelerated the demand for and growth of graduate studies in nursing. Nevertheless, Australian nurses still have fewer graduate qualifications than some countries, most notably the United States. A profile of studente and their reasons for undertaking study at the graduate level in the Australian nursing context are unknown. As courses continue to develop and proliferate it is important for educational planners to determine factors -which motivate applicants, obstacles that might impede their progression, and anticipated career plans. This study was conducted at a large metropolitan university in Sydney where there was a large population of ENs with considerable experience and seniority but who did not hold undergraduate qualifications enabling entry to graduate studies. The university permitted entry to graduate programe for many of these experienced nurses ueing ite policies OQ the recognition of prior learning (RPL). The RPL considers previous formal and informal studies, work experience, professional contribution, and completion of non-award courses. The aims of the study were to determine the factors which motivated nurses to enter graduate studies and those perceived to hinder their progression. In addition, data on the students' career plans and their experiences with mento ring prior to enrollment were sought.

Background

At the time of the study, the preregistration nursing qualification had moved to a degree program which inevitably preseured certified RNs to increase their qualifications. Studies suggest "professional servi-vai" (Carlisle, 1991, p. 296) ia a major contributing factor to nurses undertaking further study (Carlisle, 1991; Hillsmith, 1978; Watson & WeUs, 1987). Hospitaltrained nurses believe gaining a tertiary degree is a way of gaining social recognition for the knowledge and skills previously acquired (Hillsmith, 1978; Myco, 1984) or to maintain standards of practice and professional development (Chapman & Hall, 1992). Other reasons cited for undertaking further education includes improving patient care and gaining more clinical experience (Vinal & Whitman, 1994); enhancing basic training and increasing understanding, particularly in the intensive care and high-technology areas (Winson, 1993); and personal development and growth (Fraser & Titherington, 1991). Registered nurses who undertake further study may experience negative reactions from other nurses. For example, hue managers may feel threatened CReid, Mgllts, & Boore, 1987), and RN coworkers may feel resentment, suspicion, hostility, or prejudice (OTBrien, 1984). Negative reactions reflect an anti-intellectual and anti-educational tradition within the nursing profession (Armstrong-Esther & Myco, 1987; Brooking, Howard, & Terry, 1989).

The concept of motivation may be used to explain variations in studente' capabilities. A number of studies used this construct to explore reasons RNs seek further education. For example, Thurber (1988) found RNs were motivated by career advancement and opportunities offered through access to higher education. In contrast, Lethbridge (1989) describes three main motivational factors; professional development, increased knowledge, and improved social skills. Carmody (1982) found nurses were concerned with status and prestige, and these factors along with increased knowledge, social welfare skills, and professional advancement were the main motivators for upgrading qualifications. In 1978, Hillsmith found the main motivator to be personal satisfaction (84%), followed by better job opportunities and increased professional competence. Similarly, Watson and Wetls (1987) found professional growth, personal growth, and professional socialization -were the main motivators to pursue study through the master's level.

Method

This study is an exploratory longitudinal survey of four consecutive cohorts of students enrolled ill graduate studies in nursing at a large Sydney university from 1990 to 1993 (inclusive). AU students, a total of 666, were invited to complete the motivational questionnaire on enrollment. A sample of 480 students responded, giving a IZ1Ib response rat«. Students were advised that demographic details would be taken from their course application forms to reduce repetitive data collection. The seven items on the questionnaire were developed from a comprehensive review of the literature. Each item provided a range of options from which respondents could choose the most appropriate response. ID the first two questions, respondents selected their two strongest motivations (from a list of seven options) for undertaking graduate studies. Questions 3 to 6 provided options for the following: situations that may interfere with successful completion of a course; assistance from employer; anticipated hindrance from an employer's perspective; and preferred area of employment in 2 and 5 years. Question 7 offered respondents an opportunity to describe the experience of being mentored.

Face and content validity were established by asking graduates from the previous year to review the items and provide feedback. Some options were added to several items. Respondents were asked to select the option most suited to their situation for each. item. The responses for all options were summed from the four cohorts for each of the seven items, and percentages were calculated.

Results

The most important reason lor undertaking graduate study was personal or job satisfaction (42%). Increased professional status (22%) and better job opportunities (17%) were the second and third most frequently selected reasons for study. The same three motivators were chosen as the second most important by 20% of respondents. Other factors selected included promotion opportunities (ll%i, change in career directions (4%|, and financial reward (1%).

The majority (40%) felt there were no factors that might interfere with their study program. Family commitments (24%) and work commitments (Z4%) were seen as likely to present problems. Regarding assistance offered by employers, flexible scheduling was provided for 35% of respondents. Nearly one third of respondents received no assistance from their employers. Study leave at the time of enrollment had been granted to only 23% and financial assistance to only 3%.

While 49% of respondents anticipated no hindrance from their employer, 15% believed study leave would be refused; 12% believed they would face inflexible scheduling; 13% anticipated some resentment from supervisors or colleagues; and 6% believed they would be refused financial assistance.

Of those who responded, 47% intended to remain employed in the clinical area and 40% in nursing management over the next 2 years. At 5 years, 21% expected to be in clinical nursing and 46% in management. The percentage with plans to work in higher education doubled from 8% at 2 years to 16% at 5 years. Interest in nursing research positions increased from 3% at 2 years to 9% at 5 years, although, still comparatively low compared to interest in other positions. Six percent expected to leave the nursing field by 5 yeara.

Of the 45% of respondents who had experienced mentoring, 38% were mentored by managers, 28% by clinicians, and 27% by educators.

Discussion

The survey results for the questions regarding motivating factors for entering graduate studies, including personal or job satisfaction, increased professional status, and better job opportunities, support the findings of some studies (Hillsmith, 1978; Lethbridge, 1SS9; Watson & Wells, 1987). These results contrast the findings of others such as Winson (1993), who found that the main motivation was enhancing undergraduate education, and Vinal and Whitman (1994Ì, who found that the main motivation for study was the desire to improve patient care. This study's results suggest graduate students expect to gain increased personal and job satisfaction from their studies. Graduate education was perceived as increasing professional opportunities and providing an advantage in a competitive job market.

It is noteworthy that financial reward was not considered a motivation for undertaking graduate education. Presently, career progress in nursing is not linked to higher qualifications, whereas other professions openly reward the achievement of higher qualifications. Satisfaction may be found in the creative and empowering educational environment of graduate education.

Factors identified which may interfere with the completion of graduate studies suggest nearly half the respondents had life and work situations compatible with study. However, family and work commitments posed potential problems for some students. These concerns were expressed relatively infrequently (24%) considering the majority of respondents were women working full time. If the need for nurses to achieve graduate qualifications increases, employers may find it necessary to révaluate support offered to those who seek continuing education. Flexible scheduling and offering child care may be useful strategies, particularly when considering the benefits of maintaining well-qualified staff

The relatively small number of RNs receiving assistance from employers is a concern because of the difficulties students may experience in attending classes. Flexible scheduling and the provision of study leave may help students balance study and work responsibilities. Such support is particularly relevant to students who are employed full time. While 49% of respondents anticipated no hindrance from employers (contrasting with the findings of others [Armstrong-Esther & Myco, 1987; O'Brien, 1984]), the percentage of students (46%) who anticipated hindrance in the workplace ia important to note. The expectation by nurses that their employers and colleagues would binder their study efforts indicates a change of attitudes and the development of practical support strategies is necessary. The value of graduate education to clinical care, professional development, and the development of the profession overall should be made explicit.

Less than half the students intended to remain in their current working environment. Recognition of the value of graduate qualifications by employers enhances the prospect of career mobility within nursing and health-related areas. The shift from clinical nursing of 47% of graduates to 21% at 5 years suggests movement to the established career tracks in management, education, and research. These findings are significant given the current shortage of specialist clinical nurses in NSW.

The results of this study show that 45% of students experienced mentoring, which is less often than in United States studies, in which mentoring is reported as often as 80% of the time (Fagan & Fagan, 1983; Halloran, 1993; Vanee, 1982). Students in this sample experienced mentoring at almost exactly the same rate as NSW nurse unit managers and 10% more often than NSW clinical nurse specialists (Duffield, 1994; Duffield, Donoghue, Pelletier, & Adama, 1993a, 1993b). Mentoring is a professional behavior that warrants fostering in light of the rather low rates of use of this strategy in NSW (Pelletier St Duffield, 1994). Mentonng may result in further career development and better achievement of the students' personal and professional goals.

Conclusion

A better understanding of what motivates nurses to undertake the demands of study in the higher education sector, as well as factors that hinder success, is necessary. This understanding may assist academic administrators and employers in developing effective curricula and support structures which fbater achievement of the goals of all participants and beneficiaries.

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10.3928/0148-4834-19981201-13

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