Seminar 5 Summary

Student Views, Student Voices: Nursing students’ perspectives

Seminar 5 focused on giving space to students’ voices. The seminar was attended by seven nursing students from different parts of the country and facilitated by two members of our team. The day allowed for informal discussion of the themes raised in previous seminars and of students’ perspectives on such themes and as well as on the contribution of the social sciences to their learning more broadly.

In the first half of the day, most of the discussion revolved around the definition of what counts as social sciences (which should be clearly stated at all times, without taking for granted any prior knowledge students may have), the extent to which the relevance of the social sciences to nursing education and practice is made explicit and accessible to students, and the challenges that characterise students’ learning experiences (e.g. modules being disjointed; clinical teachers being unaware of what has been covered in the modules; clinical teachers not always articulating or explaining their practice; lack of commitment to teaching and learning in some places, as demonstrated by understaffing and/or lack of protected teaching time for mentors; sign-off mechanisms inhibiting meaningful dialogue between students and educators; perceived dramatic gap between theory and practice).

The second half of the seminar was dedicated to discussing possible ways in which the perspectives and tools offered by the social sciences could be better integrated in students’ learning experience. Examples included: students receiving feedback from patients via their mentors (i.e. mentors asking patients for feedback on students, then reporting back to students anonymously); more communication across years of course (in some places 3rd year students organise teaching sessions for 1st year students); students shadowing managers to get a flavour of organisational issues underpinning clinical practice; facilitated peer group discussions based on case scenarios (relatively unstructured, well facilitated, and not counting towards assessment or sign-off); students carrying out an ethnographic exercise as first task on placement; learning from comparing practices across universities and curricula; ensuring some reflection on the role of the social sciences takes place after students have been in practice; given the wide theory-practice gap students perceive, placing the social sciences not as an ‘academic’ subject belonging to the ‘theory’ but as a subject to be taught/discussed in practice, with concepts and ideas being arrived at through discussion rather than delivered in lectures; using more case scenarios from practice; allowing for more feedback on what is said and done in practice as a means to form a critical thinking habit.

Following these discussions, the group distilled three main themes around which to organise a presentation to develop with the support of our team over the following months and offer as a prompt for further discussion at the final seminar in London in March 2016.

Seminar 4 Summary

Seminar 4: opportunities and challenges for curriculum design and delivery


The ESRC Seminar Series on Nurse Education has been a series of meetings that have brought together academics from nurse education and the social sciences, as well as nursing students. The series is made up of six seminars. The first three of these explored theoretically the value the social sciences have to nurse education. The opening two meetings took case studies of disciplines from the social sciences – specifically geography and then ethnography – and considered how they might be usefully employed in the development of nurses, both academically and as practitioners. The third meeting then looked at how insights from the social sciences might contribute to avoiding repeats of the events that occurred at Mid-Staffordshire.

The second half of the series moves from considering the contributions of the social sciences to thinking how ideas might be moved forward. This paper reports on discussions that emerged from the first of those meetings, the fourth in the series as a whole. This meeting specifically brought together academics from schools of nursing with experience and responsibility for the delivery of programmes, whether as heads of school or through developing curriculum. Being held in Scotland, most participants were from Scottish institutions but with contributions also from English universities.

Goal setting

We asked participants at the outset what they wanted taking forward from the day, challenging them to consider if they saw value to the social sciences in nurse education, and if so, how they would consider ideas being moved forward, and what the main challenges to doing so would be. Asking these questions early provided opportunity to reflection, and especially to enable consideration in light of the morning’s papers, both of which provided context, from nurse education generally, and from the seminar series to date.


The morning session was devoted to the presentation of papers by Karen Holland, the editor of Nurse Education in Practice, who set out the contribution of the social sciences in historical context. Her presentation included the warning that we have visited this territory previously, but with little impact on education. That said, she also stated considerable excitement at what the current initiative might achieve.

Drs Kyle and Atherton then provided and overview of the opening three seminars, and in so doing provided a basis for the discussions that would be taken forward in the afternoon. The paper highlighted key themes to have emerged as to how the social sciences might contribute, including a clearer recognition as to what nursing actually involves (as opposed to what we imagine it to be)

Afternoon discussions

Responses can be conceptualized under three headings:

  1. What we are as nurses;
  2. Developing the academic dimensions to nursing education; and
  3. Challenges to universities (in other words academics) and nursing education’s regulators.

What we are as nurses

There were attributes to which participants held that came through in discussions and that were raised as a key point in the plenary session. The first of these was that nursing is a multi-faceted discipline. This diversity is a strength, and the ability to identify and draw on those subject that hold the potential to contribute to the development of practitioners, whether undergraduates, post-graduates or in Continuing Professional Development, is something to be encouraged. As such, the social sciences and the insights they provide were very much welcomed.

Indeed one discussion revolved around the idea that the social sciences involve much about what participants identified with as nurses. That it involves understanding the context of people’s lives, the realities of practice, and critical thinking was very much in line with the ethos that was seen as being at the heart of the nursing enterprise. Furthermore, there was clear agreement that nursing was both an academic and a practical endeavor. That the social sciences could usefully contribute to the former to the benefit of the latter was evident in discussions.

Given that the social sciences offer so much, a point raised was that social science qualifications should be welcomed as an entry criteria for nursing. School level qualifications in, say, sociology or geography provide indication not only that the applicant has academic ability, but that they have engaged in a subject that gives insights into the worlds of the people for whom he or she will be providing care to. A clearer alignment with the social sciences even before entrance would both signal was nursing was about whilst also encouraging pre-entrants to start engaging with the issues that will be their professional concern on entering a nursing degree programme.

Academic Development

Participants believed the academic opportunities offered by the social sciences to be an important opportunity for nursing education in developing as a distinctive academic subject. Doing so requires an explicit recognition as to the roots of where evidence has come from, for example having an underpinning of sociology, social anthropology or human geography. Recognition of these academic disciplines would facilitate a deeper engagement with those subjects and reflection of what they offer to nursing, an academic discipline in its own right.

Specific opportunities would make key links for students, enabling them to reflect on the ‘theory-practice gap’, those differences between what is taught in university and what is seen in practice (and indeed to start critically thinking through differences between expectations and realities). Participants saw the social sciences as making a notable contribution here with the opportunity for nursing students to engage in ethnographies of their own as a part of their first placement, at a time when they are still, to a large extent, seeing practice through the eyes of the ‘other’. Such an opportunity could in itself be an assessment, an exercise that would clearly link theory to practice and yet explicitly recognize and hold in tension that gap that all too often students, practitioners and academics find discomforting.

The social sciences, participants suggested, could also contribute understanding as to what actually happens in nurse education. In much the same way as participants in earlier seminars had demonstrated insights into practice that challenged preconceptions, including those held by academics in nurse education, so too they could shed light on to the realities of the student nurse experience, giving insights into the lives of students and their learning to enable an understanding beyond what we, as educationalists, believe or, perhaps even, wish to believe.


Whilst very sympathetic towards the potential of the social sciences to nurse education, participants also saw considerable challenges. Many of those challenges represented issues not only to the effective utilization of the social sciences, but were obstacles to an effective curriculum generally. As such, the social sciences might provide a focus for much needed reforms to nurse education.

Participants suggested that a clear articulation as to the goals of nurse education was needed. Various organisations contribute to the development of curriculum, including not only the providers, the higher education establishments, but also the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Health Education England, and, north of the border, NHS Education Scotland. With so many interests, a clear focus as to what was actually trying to be achieved was often lost. Yet without articulation as to what the intensions of the curriculum are, the ability to create programmes with clear direction was lost.

Indeed there was considerable discussion amongst participants as to the extent to which the overloaded curriculum, the attempt to include too much in curriculums, was a point of discussion. The extent to which there was consensus was not clear. However, whether the overloaded curriculum was either an obstacle or an excuse for not making greater use of the social sciences, that there is a problem with too much, often uncoordinated material in undergraduate nursing courses was recognized.

Wider issues around the manner in which nursing education is validated was also a topic of discussion. There was consensus that developing curriculum was challenging given the need to revalidate programmes every five years, one of the requirements made by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Revalidation is a considerable undertaking and does not encourage or facilitate an ongoing development. Rather, a programme has to be put in place with the explicit assumption that it will represent the curriculum until the next validation takes place. Gradually incorporating and building components, such as, for example, the social sciences, is not something the need to revalidate particularly encourages or accommodates.

The ability to develop ideas over the course of a students’ studies are currently hindered, it was suggested, by the modular programmes widely used in UK nursing education. The problem with using these modules is that they fragment learning, discouraging integration of ideas. So, a module in sociology becomes quite disassociated from other aspects of the curriculum. Nursing students are neither encouraged nor facilitated to take ideas learnt in one area and apply it to another. Repetition of material is not uncommon, but constructively revisiting to revise, develop and build is difficult to achieve. This modular structure, it was suggested, would make integration of the social sciences, as opposed to simply appending them on to courses, difficult to achieve.

Nonetheless, a closing comment suggested that we are at a tipping point in nurse education. Occurrences such as Mid-Staffordshire and the outcry that resulted provide opportunity to propel nurse education forward (something to which the social sciences can facilitate through the academic opportunities created). Yet doing so will require change to the regulatory systems. The current situation, with various organisations having input but without coordination between one another, it was suggested, is simply unsustainable.

Final thoughts

A final question raised by Karen Holland was that of “Graduateness” – what is that an academic education actually brings to a practitioner. This question is one thus far poorly articulated, but is crucial if nurses are to benefit from the wide and diverse range of subjects that might be drawn on to develop people who are able to draw on evidence in a reasoned manner, and so able to independently make informed and accountable decisions.

The social sciences – connecting theory and practice in nursing education

Iain Atherton, Reader at Edinburgh Napier University, reflects on the potential of ethnography to facilitate students connecting theory to practice.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking to the Council of Deans about the Social Science and Nursing Seminar Series, along with my colleagues Sara Donetto, social researcher from King’s College London, and Alexis Perreirra, a second year undergraduate nurse from Brighton who participated in our recent students’ seminar in Nottingham. Time inevitably constrained what we could say, our only being able to touch on just some of the ideas to have emerged over the past 18 months of the series.

We were especially keen to get views on an idea to have emerged from students who have taken part in the seminars, something very practical that has the potential to help students, not only nursing but also those studying the allied health professions, to draw on theoretical components of courses to a far greater extent to inform their practice. In other words, a very practical idea that addresses what is sometimes referred to as the ‘theory-practice gap’.

Exactly what is meant by this ‘gap’ is unclear to me. Academic components to courses are essential. I know many of you will not need convincing. The wonderful Guardian article by June Girvan that eloquently explains why nursing is an academic subject. For me the case is decided; the profession’s place in the academy is beneficial to patient care.

On reflection, would I have said the same thing 30 years ago, when sat in a classroom in the Fife College of Nursing and Midwifery in Kirkcaldy, a recent entrant as a student nurse? I think not. It is only with time that I have come to understand the value of academia. Rather than closing this “gap”, perhaps what we should be thinking about is how we can facilitate students to make connections. As Sara suggested yesterday, we need to think about how to break the distinction between theory and practice. And it is here, in encouraging creative and empathetic thinking, that the social sciences (and other subjects from the arts and humanities) can make a notable contribution.

Of all the issues that have arisen in our conversations through the series, one theme that links together many is the ways in which the social sciences can facilitate students to make such links between theory and practice. And in talking with students who took part in the last seminar, one specifically devoted to students, the idea that many have brought-up, including very practical suggestions, is again, the possibilities of better linking theory to practice. I’m going to relate one of those ideas here, but will blog about other ways in which theory from the social sciences can contribute to breaking down the theory-practice divide.

Ethnographies, studies that involve immersion in a particular social context, such as a ward or community placement, can highlight differences between commonly held views and what actually takes place, or between the superficial explanations given on first contact and those that become evident as more trusting relationships develop.

Take for example ideas presented at our second seminar, a meeting that focussed on culture and the ward and community environment. Kate Seers, one of our co-applicants, described an ethnographic study in which one of her PhD students had talked to nurses about their practice and observed their nursing care. What was said did not always tally with what became evident later, as the idea was discussed and reflected on by researcher and study participants. We are, I suspect, familiar (and likely accept) the idea that “pain is what the patient says it is”. And indeed, nurses often stated their agreement with the idea to Kate’s student. Yet, once the student got to know the nurses well, and talked in depth as to the use of pain control, the reality was rather different. “Pain is what the patient says it is, but…”. This qualification to the statement was added to justify a rather different approach to pain control. When I heard Kate’s presentation, that idea struck a chord with me, being familiar to my own experiences of clinical practice, and I suspect it will with many of you. But it was through ethnography, a method of the social sciences, that the disjuncture between a popular idea and reality, between theory and practice, was made clear to me.

Another example. Professor Davina Allan from the University of Cardiff presented at our Kings’ Seminar. During her presentation, she discussed her own ethnography of nursing practice on a ward. And what she saw challenged popular notions as to what a nurse does. Much of a nurse’s time, she personally observed in her ethnographic study, was spent in management roles, and not just filling-in paper work; managing beds, off duty rostas, negotiating resources. What was staggering was the percentage of this time, being around 60 per cent of a nurse’s shift. Now we might quibble about the generalizability of that study, or the degree to which such the percentage reflected a true figure. My own view, for what it is worth, is that it brought back memories of my own time in practice. Again, the ethnography opened to me a view of my own roles rather different to what I might previously have believed.

My point here is that these ethnographies bring to focuses how complex practice is, how ideas held and stated can be very different to what actually occurs. Practice has to be reflected on beyond initial observations, and not just taken at face value. Realisation that our own notions can differ from what is made clear through ethnography opens up all kinds of questions to grapple with, whether to the way we as practitioners really approach stated pain, or if nursing is about managing or direct patient care. In other words, ethnography provides a very practical means to getting in to critical reflection and critical thinking.

So how might ethnography be drawn on practically? Will Ball, one of the students contributing to the series, and now doing a PhD with us at Edinburgh Napier University, suggested the idea of an ethnography as a first placement experience. The intention here is to facilitate insight into how our understandings, others’ narratives, and realities can differ, to challenge the notion that experience can be taken at face value, and to encourage thinking critical thinking into contradictions.

My initial reaction was one of skeptisism. On reflection, I wonder – just wonder – whether the student participants might be on to something here. Of course there are many issues that would need to be thought through; the practicalities of developing expertise in ethnography (though there may be many ethnographers sat in schools of nursing just waiting for such an opportunity), of enabling such placements, thinking through whether assessment would be helpful and, if so, what form it should take. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and ideas on this, as well as, as indicated at the start of this presentation, how we might take forward an idea such as this (or the many other possibilities offered up by the seminar series).

Work would have to be done thinking through how such a placement might be facilitated; preparation beforehand, facilitation during and afterwards, assessment. I am not an ethnographer, my own research using methods very far removed. The idea opens up the possibility of collaboration with academics in other schools, ethnographers being located in schools of anthropology, geography, sociology and so on.

The way theory develops is often iterative. Ideas are developed, and altered over time in light of experience. Ethnography, both the insights from published ethnographies such as by Davina Allan or Kate Seers, or through practical training and exposure, can provide students with a working understanding of theories and practice and how one can contribute to the other.

What do you think?

Iain Atherton is a Reader at Edinburgh Napier University.

Photography as a pedagogic lens for exploring cultures of care

Kay Aranda, a Lecturer at the University of Brighton discusses recent research that examines the potential of photography as a pedagogic lens to explore cultures of care.

Having attended seminar two of the Social Science and Nursing seminar series and enjoyed the stimulating presentations and discussions on culture and care, we wanted to share our experiences of using photography to explore cultures and values based practice.

As a module team at the University of Brighton, we obtained funding from our Centre for Learning and Teaching to explore the use of visual practices in relation to culture and diversity. We purchased cameras for students to use in a learning activity on a pre-registration module and designed a project to explore how photography would promote the ability to look again or could slow down and transform learning about students’ own culture.

A values-based practice (VBP) approach informs the national educational and practice curriculum of English mental health nurses. This aims to re-examine and restate personal, professional and societal values and explicitly acknowledges emotions, conflict and ambivalence ‘up front,’ in discussions of culture and difference. This approach informs our VBP module which we all teach on. The premise of the module is therefore to offer a critical and political approach to culture and diversity by working with understandings that attempt to avoid fixed or static notions of culture, or culture as a pathologising description of a set of ‘exotically’ different attributes belonging to ‘others’. Rather, the focus is on all cultures, including dominant cultures, which we all inhabit and the implications of this for mental health mental nursing and service users’ experiences of care. We knew the use of the humanities and arts in nurse education are approaches known to promote students’ compassion and empathy and increase observational skills and awareness of dealing with health needs across cultures and are said to strengthen students’ confidence in and abilities to provide care.

During the module, students work in small groups and actively participate in explorations of their own culture by taking photos. Each group then presents their photos to the whole group and discusses the reasons for their choice and the values, norms and beliefs they identified, those they share and those found to be different. The guidance for the task encourages them to think critically and interrogate their own understandings and assumptions. In the feedback session we ask students to offer their own understandings (photo elicitation), while those facilitating the session draw attention to the content and themes present in the analysis and presentations overall. During the past three years the presentations and discussions have raised important questions about power and knowledge and understandings and the constructions of norms and difference.

Project and Findings

In our project we explored this activity in depth by using pre and post module focus groups, observation of the group work activity and follow up interviews six months later. We found photography makes visible situated, relational and collaborative learning and surfaces previously unidentified, unarticulated ideas about culture and values and we argue that these practices mimic important processes central to critical mental health practice and contemporaneous understandings of diverse cultures.

For example, prior to the module, students had ideas about culture and values but these were sometimes difficult to articulate or identify. Following the module, students were surprised to find they sometimes held strong values; but they more clearly recognised the complexity and difficulty of responding to and dealing with conflicting values. During the fieldwork, we observed good interpersonal and group work skills, interesting but sometimes challenging debates and discussions, and learning from and about each other. In the follow up interviews we found students enjoyed going outside to learn, they found listening to and learning from each other valuable, they enjoyed taking photos and felt photography provoked a different type of learning and level of discussion and dialogue than in classroom based learning. They also remembered the day more than any other session in the module.

What do we still need to find out?

We concluded that photography provides an important resource with which to unearth subjugated knowledges and promote critical understandings of culture and values, and thereby helps to address inequalities in mental healthcare. We still need to find out whether this type of learning promotes a reflexivity of both self and practice that is sustainable and lasts, and we also need to know whether it has any positive impact in practice for service users, and/or whether other creative methods would do this work as effectively.

For a full account of the project, do please see our paper which will be published shortly in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, entitled Let’s go outside: Using photography to explore values and culture in mental health nursing. Do contact us (Kay or Sharon, if you wish to discuss the project further or if you wish to learn more about how we have revised and now run the photography and culture session in our current pre registration programme.

Kay Aranda is Lecturer at the University of Brighton.

Seminar 2 Summary

Culture and context matter: understanding the culture of the ward and community environment

>> Seminar 2… in 20 seconds… 

> Engaging with the social sciences can enable students to wrestle with wicked problems that have no straightforward solutions.

> Embracing complexity enables nurses to act as ‘interfaces’ by making complex medical ideas accessible to patients.

> Understanding culture and context is crucial to develop critical honest insight into practice.

> Developing cultural understanding is fundamental to challenging assumptions and enables more empathetic nursing care.

Seminar 2 opened with a welcome by Professor Kate Seers followed by a brief overview of the series and the opening seminar in Inverness by Dr Iain Atherton and Dr Richard Kyle.

‘Wicked Problems’ and ‘Suspended Solutions’

Professor Celia Lury then presented on ‘Problems and Solutions from an interdisciplinary perspective’. This paper provided the platform for the day’s discussion raising a number of key issues that were revisited and wrestled with by participants throughout the seminar.

First, Professor Lury raised the importance of recognising that many problems do not have straightforward and clear-cut answers, but rather require to be held in tension. Such so-called ‘wicked problems’ defy simplistic solutions. Instead they call for an understanding of evidence and an ability to discuss and reason, perhaps without reaching a conclusion. They both need and encourage the development of analytical skills. These are skills that are vital for health professionals to cultivate but doing so may prove challenging as they may unsettle the assumptions that underpin the medical model.

Second, Professor Lury introduced participants to the ideas of Bowker and Star (1999) that provided a way to think through the complexities of an individual’s experience of living with ill-health. This highlighted the way in which a person’s biography and biological disease have several different trajectories that sometimes converge and at other times diverge, with implications for both an individual’s experience of their life, self and relationships, as well as the supportive care that might be provided by healthcare professionals. The complexity was further untangled through discussion of the places, times and power relationships that further shaped a person’s entwined disease and biographical trajectories.

Third, Professor Lury considered ideas of ‘interface’, the idea that nurses represent a means by which patients and families can engage with complex ideas in a manner that makes these difficult concepts understandable. Analogies were drawn with computer programmes where users do not have to understand how to develop a program for themselves, but rather are able to engage with the computer as a result of an operating system that is designed to be accessible. For healthcare professionals, adopting an interface role is not straightforward and requires an ability to take complex medical ideas and concepts and conceptualise and communicate these to patients by translating technical terminology into accessible lay language.

Professor Jane Coad served as the day’s first discussant. She usefully reflected on how the ideas developed by Professor Lury might be applied to interdisciplinary education and pondered why, following her own review of the field, thinking around the importance of interdisciplinary education had seemed to fall out of fashion in nurse education since 2008. Professor Coad closed by posing a critical question: what is the goal of interdisciplinary education?

Ward Culture and Patient Care

Professor Kate Seers then spoke about the importance of culture in the ward environment and understanding its implications for patient care. She suggested that the socio-cultural context could be more influential than organisational policies. Pain control was used as an example to highlight the value of ethnographic work that opens up a critical understanding of what really happens on the ward. For example, many people have heard ‘pain is what the patient says it is’, however an ethnography revealed that “pain is what the patient says it is, but…”. In short, understanding the realities of pain control means that although listening to what the patient is saying is an important first step, there are often other issues that need to be taken into account. While pain management charts continue to be underutilised it is often nurses’ assumptions that continue to guide pain management decisions. Insights from ethnography provided a deeper understanding of how pain management worked and how important the culture and context are for effective care. This knowledge can provide students with opportunities to discuss their own experiences on the ward, or in community nursing settings.

Chameleons and Creativity

Professor Coad again acted as discussant. She highlighted the ways in which ethnography can provide insight into students’ experience, quoting one student who told her “you have to be a chameleon to get a good [placement] report”. She highlighted the need for creativity in nursing education – and in nursing practice more generally. However, she questioned the loss of staff rooms and the implications for both the support networks nurses are able to create within the ward environment and the space to encourage creative thinking.

Culture matters

Professor Gillian Hundt delivered the first of the afternoon’s two papers. Here she related her own experiences of conducting ethnographic research with Bedouin communities. Her paper emphasised the way through which an appreciation of culture aids our understanding of individuals’ actions, particularly in relation to help-seeking behaviour. She recollected a story of a mother of a boy with diarrhoea who felt needed to ask for permission to attend hospital from her husband who was working away at the time. Taking her son to hospital would have implications for her family, not least financial. That the mother delayed seeking help led to accusations of blame from hospital staff who made their own assumptions about why the mother had not sought help for her son immediately. In reference to this story, the crucial point made by Professor Hundt was that developing an understanding of culture by spending time with others can help to challenge such assumptions and prejudices. Professor Hundt then continued by discussing a programme she established where nurses had been given opportunities to spend time with Bedouin communities, going into people’s homes and learning more about their lives. The programme also funded individuals from Bedouin communities to become nurses. In short, cultural understanding developed through close engagement with people’s lives served to challenge prejudices and assumptions easily held by distant others.

Embedded in communities

Professor Gill Furze then acted as discussant. She spoke of the importance of encouraging student nurses to engage with the communities that they will ultimately serve during their training. She highlighted models that had been used in midwifery that enabled engagement with communities but questioned how this might be translated to nurse education given greater numbers of students pursing nurse training. She closed by suggesting that a useful starting point to encourage increased engagement with ideas around culture was to provide opportunities in the curriculum for them to reflect critically upon the culture to which they belong and the assumptions and practices that include and exclude.

Recognising Complexity

Finally, rounding out the day and in some way returning to our starting point, Professor Frances Griffiths talked of the use of the social sciences in ‘Understanding complexity and health using a social science approach’. Her paper discussed the importance of time and context in understanding outcomes of complex interventions. She talked about a longitudinal study of people with a chronic disease in which a typology was identified with regards to the situations of patients, specifically being ‘past reminders’, ‘stuck and struggling’, ‘becalmed’ and submerged’. She contended that identifying the current situation of a patient may open up different options of treatment by GPs.

The seminar drew to a close with participants discussing in small groups the key take-home messages from the day and the challenges and potential routes forward for the integration of the ideas shared during the seminar for nurse education.

Take-home messages
* Students should be given opportunities to wrestle with wicked problems as a means of developing critical thinking, communication and reflective skills among students
* Students should be given space to recognise the cultural values of patients

* overloaded curricula
* lecturers’ skillsets
* large classes
* lack of space in our campuses and curricula for students to develop critical thinking ability

Routes forward
* Listening to service users’ experiences living in different cultural contexts directly or through ethnographic accounts of social scientists
* Storytelling as a means to hear and share experience
* Photography to encourage students to reflect on their own lives to better understand the lives of others

Time to raise the bar for entry to nurse education?

Will Ball, a member of the Social Science and Nursing core student group, asks whether it’s time to re-think nurse recruitment.

As a current Adult Nursing student, it was a privilege to be involved in the conversations stimulated at the first seminar in Inverness.

Discussion on the day focused on the role that social sciences, specifically geographical approaches, could play in nurse education and the case was put forward that it could serve to instil compassion and critical thinking skills in future professionals. Alongside this was an interesting exploration of the academic validation of nursing as a subject that could come with this approach.

One point of discussion that interests me concerns the demographics of applicants to nursing degree courses. Having recently dropped the diploma entry and converted all UK nursing courses to degree only, the direction of movement in nurse education is already towards academia. However, standards for entry to courses generally remain flexible and are much less demanding in terms of school-leaving grades than other subjects. Could raising the qualification bar for entry to nursing feed into a more academically grounded group of professionals?

My experience of studying in both London and the Highlands of Scotland tells me that nursing courses attract a variety of people, from recent school leavers to more mature students who have experienced the job market and made a conscious decision to join the nursing profession later in life. Both groups make a contribution to the profession and higher grades would affect access for some who would otherwise make excellent nurses. If the standards were to be raised, more room could surely be made for access or ‘pre-nursing’ courses to allow for those dedicated to the profession who may not have applied themselves earlier.

There is also the (somewhat flawed) perception that newly qualified nurses today are ‘too posh to wash’. Making entry to nursing more academically demanding would certainly not play well in the current media narrative. One should only look at our medical colleagues to see that higher standards of entry do not mean less compassionate professionals.

If we value a more analytical and academic cohort of nursing students, who will respond to perceived deficiencies of the profession in their future nursing careers, should we not look toward those high-school or college students who excel already?

Will Ball is Student Nurse at the Highland Campus of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, University of Stirling and member of the core student group of the Social Science and Nursing Seminar Series.


Social Science and Nursing Blog Launched

AFTER THE SUCCESS of the first Social Science and Nursing seminar in Inverness we are thrilled to launch our new Social Science and Nursing blog.

Today marks a turning point for the Social Science and Nursing website. Up to now the website has largely been a way to promote the seminar series and attract folks to come along to the individual seminars.

With the launch of the blog, the website starts to transform into a resource for nurse educators and social scientists alike. Our hope is that this blog sits at the heart of a vibrant conversation between the social sciences and nurse education – a hub for a noisy discussion between educators and students, social scientists and nurses.

The questions the blog poses are simple:

  1. How can the social sciences contribute to nurse education?
  2. How can nurse education contribute to the social sciences?

The answers are many. And that’s why the blog needs you.

We want to hear your ideas – positive or critical, theoretical or practical, long or short. This blog is for discussion about anything and everything that contributes to closer engagement between social science and nurse education.

So, whether you are a social scientist, a nurse, a lecturer, a student, this is the place to share your views.

And we are especially keen that students find a home here.

We see the blog as an entry-point to academic debate and a challenge to its conventions. Blogs are free from the rules of academic papers, which as any academic will tell you take time to learn. As a student, blogging can enable you to start engaging meaningfully and critically with academic debate – and specifically debate about the way you are taught to be a nurse, a geographer, a sociologist, and so on – something clearly close to your heart.

So much of our thinking – particularly the stuff that challenges or pushes into new ground – is done fairly privately before a reasonably polished argument works its way into a published editorial or a peer-reviewed paper. This blog allows all that work – the thinking, the debating, the critiquing, the challenging – to be done publicly, and for others to contribute to shape our thinking, and ultimately the future of nurse and social science education. Now that’s something pretty special to be part of.

And along the way by contributing to the blog – whether as a student or educator – you will set down clear markers of your thinking which, on reflection, will show you how far you – and we all – have come.

Our hope for our Social Science and Nursing blog is that as thinking shifts and changes – and is challenged – during the next five seminars that we will be able to look back two years hence and see just how far that thinking has travelled. And that we will all see just how important our role in progressing academic debate has been.

Over the next few weeks individuals who were involved in the first seminar will be sharing their thoughts sparked by our conversations in Inverness. And we’d encourage you to jot down your ideas and responses, however fleeting or partially formed, and pass them along to us to add to the blog.

You can send blog posts to We look forward to hearing and sharing your thoughts on the blog and via our twitter account @SocSciNursing

Come join the conversation.