This site is intended for health professionals only

Student nurses and evidence based practice

I have just finished marking lots of assignments about research. Much to our mutual relief they have nearly all passed and a very decent proportion of them have passed with very good marks. Hurrah! However, I know the module evaluations will be fairly dire. Despite our best efforts to make research interesting, the students dread the module, and every year they tell us so.

I think one of the problems is that student nurses really struggle to see how research is relevant to clinical practice. This is ironic given that knowledge of the evidence-base should underpin every clinical judgement and decision we make. Sometimes this is tricky as the research evidence we need simply doesn't exist, or the quality of the research is so poor that we cannot trust the results. But as practising nurses we should at least know the current state of the research for our area of clinical practice. However, it is clear this isn't the case in many of the students' clinical placements. 

The students often tell us that the nurse mentors they are placed with often have no concept of evidence-based practice, and are unable to discuss whether or not any research exists to inform their practice, or worse still, are very anti-research. This is not always the case. Students who have placements with one of the community specialist nurse teams usually come back brimming with enthusiasm for evidence-based practice. We have also recently started placing students with some of the research nursing teams and again, both the nurse mentors and their students seem to be getting a great deal out of these placements. We in the university are also very encouraged by the way senior nursing management is now actively encouraging their registered nurses to sign up for Masters programmes which will develop their evidence-based practice skills.

I am not placing all the blame on the students' clinical practice experience. Teaching students about research is difficult and we are currently exploring news ways to make this topic more engaging.  However, we cannot do this one-handed. We need to make sure we are supported in practice so that the students can see the theory they learn with us has real usefulness and application in clinical practice. We need to make sure that we support nurse mentors to feel comfortable with research so they don't transfer their anxiety and distrust to the new generation of student nurses.   

If anyone still has any doubt about why research is so important, can I remind you of the research that discovered encouraging mothers to place their babies face down to sleep, dramatically increased the risk of cot death. The subsequent campaign to discourage this has greatly reduced the incidence of cot death. Research saves lives - we cannot ignore it. And if anyone has any brilliant ideas as to how we can make teaching research more interesting, please let me know! All ideas welcome.