Not choosing nursing: work experience and career choice of high academic achieving school leavers

McNally, Jim and Neilson, Gavin (2010) Not choosing nursing: work experience and career choice of high academic achieving school leavers. Nurse Education Today, 30 (1). pp. 9-14. ISSN 0260-6917 (

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Work experience has been a feature of the secondary school curriculum in the United Kingdom for a number of years. Usually requested by the pupil, it aims to provide opportunities for school pupils to enhance their knowledge and understanding of an occupation. The main benefits are claimed to be that it can help pupils develop an insight into the skills and attitudes required for an occupation and an awareness of career opportunities. However the quality and choice of placements are considered to be of great importance in this process and in influencing career choice [Department for Education and Skills (DfES), 2002a. Work Experience: A Guide for Employers. Department for Education and Skills, London]. As university departments of nursing experience a decline in the number of school pupils entering student nurse education programmes, and with the competition for school leavers becoming even greater, it is important to consider whether school pupils have access to appropriate work placements in nursing and what influence their experience has on pursuing nursing as a career choice. This paper is based on interview data from 20 high academic achieving fifth and sixth year school pupils in Scotland, paradigmatic cases from a larger survey sample (n=1062), who had considered nursing as a possible career choice within their career preference cluster, but then later disregarded nursing and decided to pursue medicine or another health care profession. This was partly reported by Neilson and Lauder [Neilson, G.R., Lauder, W., 2008. What do high academic achieving school pupils really think about a career in nursing: analysis of the narrative from paradigmatic case interviews. Nurse Education Today 28(6), 680-690] which examined what high academic achieving school pupils really thought about a career in nursing. However, the data was particularly striking in revealing the poor quality of nursing work experience for the pupils, and also their proposal that there was a need for work experience which was more representative of the reality of nursing. Participants reported that proper work experience in nursing could make it more attractive as a career choice but that there were difficulties and barriers in obtaining an appropriate work experience in nursing. These included unhelpful attitudes of teachers towards work experience in nursing in general and the placements themselves which were typically in a nursing home or a care home. They felt that departments of nursing within universities should have an input into organising more realistic work placements and that their involvement could foster greater interest amongst pupils in nursing as a career.