As an academic teaching undergraduate nursing students, the levels of stress that they are often placed under does cause huge concern.
Indeed, in a number of recent studies this has been acknowledged as a major factor towards psychological distress, recruitment and retention, and final degree classification. The ability to overcome such adversity and learn to cope with all of the stressful factors associated with studying to become a nurse can be increasingly difficult. This brings me onto ‘resilience’.
Resilience may be described in many different ways, but, in a nutshell, it is being able to bounce back, to protect oneself against the negative effects of stressors and to have the ability to be able to cope with challenging situations and move on positively. Something that, within the complex field of nursing, is an essential component of our being.
Resilience has been found to have an impact on learning experience, academic performance, course completion and, in the longer term, professional practice. Resilience and, subsequently, positive coping strategies can resist stress and improve overall wellbeing.
Nursing is becoming increasingly more demanding and highly stressful due to staffing shortages, financial constraints and ever-increasing challenges. Research has demonstrated that while studying nursing at university, students experience higher levels of academic stress than any other disciplines. These stressors may increase psychological morbidity such as excessive anxiety, worry and depression.
“As academics, and indeed clinicians in practice, we have a responsibility to help to build student wellbeing”
Resilience is therefore imperative for nursing students to survive adversity and prepare them for undertaking their professional role once they have graduated.
Chronic exposure to stressors may contribute to both low esteem and negative wellbeing. This may result in a lack of professional confidence and could affect nursing students’ aspirations to take up a clinical post after qualifying, contributing to the ever-decreasing number of qualified nurses within the UK.
As academics, and indeed clinicians in practice, we have a responsibility to help to build student wellbeing through the development of resilience and effective coping mechanisms. But how? How do we begin to do this?
I discussed this with a number of my undergraduate students (at all levels of their training) and asked them what they thought may help. Suggestions were plentiful and this became a very useful exercise within the classroom setting.
I decided to, with the students’ permission, write the comments down and look for common themes within their feedback. I categorised these themes as follows:
- A supportive learning environment (both within their theoretical setting and their clinical setting);
- Structured mentorship programmes (again within both settings);
- Accessible, additional support when needed (academically and clinically);
- Problem-based learning (developing problem-solving skills, critical thinking and persistence);
- Reflection – and the time and encouragement to reflect;
- Clinical supervision/debriefs – providing the opportunity to analyse issues from varying perspectives and identify positive meanings from stressful events and situations;
- Reflective writing within the academic setting;
- Learning/discussing effective coping strategies and emotion regulation and, finally, a student-centred learning environment with positive expectations towards students.
Nursing education focuses upon many different aspects and timetables are often tightly compact – strategically balancing the required number of hours between theory and practice, as governed by our regulatory body.
But, there is a significant relationship between resilience and wellbeing in nursing students, and this needs to be considered within our curriculum.
If we do not place a strong emphasis upon building our students’ resilience and helping them to find effective coping mechanisms against the many difficult challenges that they will encounter, recruitment and retention will become even more of a crisis than it already is.
Fiona Cust is senior lecturer in children’s nursing, Staffordshire University