Crossing the Threshold: Students' Experiences of the Transition from Student to Staff Nurse

Draper, Janet; Sparrow, Shelagh and Gallagher, Donna (2010). Crossing the Threshold: Students' Experiences of the Transition from Student to Staff Nurse. PBPL paper 45; The OU, Milton Keynes.


Current policy in the health services emphasises nursing students’ fitness to practice at the point of registration. There has also been some suggestion that pre-registration education has not equipped them with the necessary knowledge and skills. Other research findings have indicated that students can find this transition stressful. Due to the massive investment in nurse education and the need to retain nurses in the workforce, we wanted to understand the factors that might better support this transition.

Using telephone interviews with former students of The Open University part-time, distance learning, pre-registration nursing programme, we explored nurses’ experiences of their first 3-6 months of qualified practice. A number of recurring themes emerged which were then exposed to theoretical analysis using Van Gennep’s theory of transition
and Bridges’ work on organisational change.

In at the deep end
Here students talked of their feelings associated with their increased accountability and of their anxiety in those early days following qualification.

Changing identities
As sponsored Health Care Assistants (HCAs), OU nursing students regularly juggle the transition from HCA to student but then make a further transition to staff nurse. Many talked about the impact of this on former HCA colleagues and the significance of the uniform as a symbol defining their new identity.

Coming together
In this theme, participants talked of how things started to come together, their growing confidence and their satisfaction of being able to apply their knowledge in practice.

This was the name given to the formal and informal support structures participants described as useful during their transition. These included their educational preparation, organisational support and the individual support of mentors and family.

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