Nursing students should be taught that relying on instinct can help them make good clinical decisions, according to a new study.
The idea of basing care decisions on intuition is generally frowned upon by nursing teachers and managers, and dismissed as “irrational, unscientific and unreliable”.
“Intuition is a valid and worthwhile path to accurate decision-making”
Yet many nurses on the ground say they partly rely on instinct, according to a team of US researchers who set out to study the role of intuition in clinical decision-making.
The team from Pennsylvania examined the way final-year pre-registration students made decisions during a simulation.
Their findings – published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing – suggested students and newly-qualified nurses should be taught that intuition can play a role alongside a more analytical approach.
More than 120 nursing students took part in the study, with some observing and others playing the role of nurses in a simulation scenario involving a patient who had recently had open heart surgery.
Participants were faced with a familiar complication – shortness of breath – and then a less familiar situation when the patient started to experience an irregular heartbeat. They were asked to record the reasoning behind the decisions they made.
The researchers found the students generally relied more heavily on analysis than intuition during the exercise. However, taking a more analytical approach was not necessarily linked to increased accuracy.
Those who relied on intuition when faced with the more familiar problem made more accurate decisions, especially when it came to getting key information.
But the in the less familiar situation the use of intuition appeared to hamper decision-making, especially among nursing students watching the action.
“Taken together these findings offer empirical evidence that intuition is a valid and worthwhile path to accurate decision-making, but only when the clinical situation is familiar,” stated the study paper.
While the researchers do not advocate nurses relying on intuition alone, they said teaching should recognise the positive role it could play in clinical decision-making together with analysis.
“The products of intuition may serve as a flag to look more deeply and analytically at a given issue,” they concluded.
“Given that nurses frequently use intuition during clinical decision-making, failure to fully appreciate the nature of intuition hampers the legitimacy of clinical decision-making among nurses,” they said.