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Reversing the sense of disillusionment

Annie May looks at the reasons for entering and leaving nursing.

Recruitment retention strategies need to be informed by the altruistic and vocational reasons why nurses and students are drawn to nursing, regardless of generational differences, according to a recent study.

Despite the introduction of many government and industry led initiatives to reverse the trend, the Australian nursing workforce continues to be undersupplied and shortages are predicted to increase. According to the Australian Health Workforce Advisory Committee, from 2010 yearly demand was expected to be 10,000 new nurse graduates with a shortfall of 4000.

Past studies have identified numerous influencing factors on why people enter or leave the nursing profession, from the tangible such as pay, workload, convenience and family responsibilities, to the intangible such as job satisfaction, status and psychological rewards.

Changes over the last decade, and not addressed in many studies, include Generation Y has entered the workforce and Australia has experienced considerable economic fluctuations.

The recent study, published in the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing questions whether those events impact on the reasons nurses and nursing students enter and leave the profession.

Of those surveyed, 88.4 per cent were female and 37 per cent 50 years of age or older. Almost half (45.3 per cent) of the nursing students were 30 years of age or older and 44.1 per cent of all students were working as nursing assistants or enrolled nurses whilst studying.

Of these working students 32.5 per cent had been nursing in excess of five years.

Self interest, vocation (the opportunity for caring) and altruism were identified by both students and nurses as the main reasons for entering nursing.

There were no differences in responses of those above or below 30 years of age.

However, reasons given for leaving did differ between groups and ages.

Compared to students, nurses were most likely to cite disillusionment with nursing, followed by retirement, a dislike of shift work and the desire for a career beyond nursing.

Students under 30 years of age indicated pursuit of another career, family resonsibilities and starting a family to be the major factors.

While the authors – Robert Eley and Cath Rogers-Clark from the University of Southern Queensland and Diann Eley from the University of Queensland – admit some of the results will be of no surprise, they say they should inform future recruitment strategies.

The generally accepted belief is that Generation Y is different and wants more lifestyle choices than previous generations, say the authors. It is then implied that this will affect recruitment and retention of nurses.

However in their study there was remarkable consistency between the students and the nurses, and between students above and below 30 years of age in the ranking of the factors that influenced their decision to become a nurse.

“This is an important finding, and challenges assumptions that younger people will only be drawn to nursing if it offers them an appealing lifestyle,” say the authors.

The findings question recruitment messages formulated with consideration of likely differences between generations.

“Notions that young people are turned off a career in nursing because supposedly old-fashioned values of altruism and vocation have no interest to them have led to tailoring nursing recruitment messages accordingly.

“These concepts appear in nursing recruitment campaigns, such as Queensland’s ‘Think Nursing’ where prospective nurses are told that nurses will enjoy financial rewards, professional and career development, a flexible workplace and a ‘dream Aussie lifestyle’.

“Certainly these attributes are important recruitment messages; however the results of the current study suggest that the emphasis may need to be questioned. Perhaps, after all, young people are drawn to nursing for exactly the same reasons as previous generations.”

That, they say, is a desire to care for others.

Taking this into account, recruitment and retention strategies should “avoid unsupported assumptions about generational differences and choice of careers”, and instead focus on nursing as a career choice for those who want to care for others.

“Recruitment campaigns may need to be more clearly targeted to reflect these findings. If nurses enter nursing because they want to care, then perhaps a subsequent decision to leave nursing because of a sense of disillusionment could mean that nursing work environment did not sufficiently allow or value a caring ethos.

Retention strategies should identify and attend to the sense of disillusionment which leads nurses to leave nursing, in light of their reasons for entering nursing in the first place.

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