Changing institutional identities of the student nurse

Brennan, D. and Timmins, F. (2012) Changing institutional identities of the student nurse. pp. 747-751. ISSN 02606917 (ISSN)


This paper emphasises the tensions between the ideal of the compliant within care settings and the ideal of the critical thinker within the university setting with reference to student nurse education and identity. Identity is an important part of who we are as people. While modernisation and increased professionalisation of nursing have impacted on staff and patients mostly in a positive way, changes in the management of nursing education in the past 20. years have also heralded a remarkable change in the student identity. Historically informed by association with a particular hospital or health service provider, student nurse identity was shaped by institutional rituals and routine, physically embodied in objects such as uniforms and hospital medals and informed by claims to honesty, virtue and personal integrity (Bradby, 1990). Once part of the structure and fabric of hospital life, nursing students functioned as part of the health care service. As such, their identity was synonymous with that of practicing nurses, whose learning needs were secondary to that of the organisational needs. While this social milieu provided the platform for the formation of institutional pride, belonging and identity, such forms of identity can result in institutional compliance; with the associated risk of ritualistic practice, poor levels of transparent accountability and barriers to whistle blowing should substandard practice arise. Increased student freedom and an emphasis on teaching and learning within the university setting may have benefitted students, patients and the profession, however, the potential impact on student identity is less certain. There is evidence to suggest that students are ill-equipped for their professional identity once qualified and thus require more support for this within universities. This paper explores the tensions between traditional hospital identity and contemporary university identity with reference to student nurse education. The ideal of the compliant versus the ideal of the critical thinker will be debated. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

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