Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Student nurses should be taught to use their ‘instincts’


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”

Study paper

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.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Intuition is one of those concepts that is difficult to describe, however if I was asked I would say it was' an immediate thought or feeling I had based on my experience'. Of course depending where I was or what I was doing the experience required would vary, but would still be necessary. . A third year student nurse is just on the threshold of gaining the experience necessary to use 'instinct' when making care decisions. If I was the patient I would rather they analyse the situation using knowledge gained during training than rely on intuition without the experience to justify it.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Sorry but this is utter rubbish. As is the nurse apprenticeship.

    This is all about saving money and will be the end of the nursing profession that has just about managed to hold its head high over the years .

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Correction for Apprenticeship read Associate.... just goes to show how confusing the issues is.

    Train health care assistants PROPERLY and bring back the bursary for degree nurses.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I have been a nurse for over 25 years and agree that sometimes you just know when things are not right, even though the numbers may say otherwise; but not sure how you can teach someone instinct - it is an inane skill that you either have or you don't. I agree with the previous post however; it may be a skill that you can tap into but only when you have the experience to do so. This is something that newly qualified staff will not be able to do. Although I have also observed that the more academic the nurse, the less they seem to either have or be able to tap into such abstract skill.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • This fits with the latest research on intuition (it would have been good to refer to it in the article). As we learn and become expert we hold knowledge in complex pattern forms in the caudate nucleus of the brain. Over time the brain can pick up just a small piece of one of those patterns and "know" it belongs to a pattern it's seen before. This accounts for the feeling that something's wrong, even when we can't account for it logically yet because we haven't seen the full pattern. We won't get this intutive hit for things we are not yet expert in or haven't encountered before. Chec out the Scientific American article here

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I somewhat agree with the article. But the intuition on its own is as useless as sympathy. On the other hand, the mixture of underpinning knowledge, experience and the intuition is really, really beneficial.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs