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Student non-attendance in higher education
A phenomenon of student apathy or poor pedagogy?

Author - Joanne Cleary-Holdforth


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Significance of attendance on undergraduate nurse education programmes

Nurse education in Ireland has undergone a great change in a very short period of time, moving from a three-year hospital-based apprenticeship model of training in 1995 to a three-year hospital-based diploma, and subsequently to a four-year full-time university degree in 2002. The theoretical content of nursing programmes has increased significantly since the apprenticeship model with a greater emphasis on research and evidence-based practice. At the same time, the nature of the clinical practice aspect of nursing programmes has also changed. Under the apprenticeship model, student nurses were fully integrated as part of the healthcare team, working alongside qualified nurses but assuming a distinct role within the team. In current nursing programmes, student nurses for the most part assume a supernumerary role, working very much under the supervision of an assigned preceptor but not taking the place of a staff member until they reach third year when they undertake a one-year rostered practice placement. While this is a positive move, in that it allows student nurses to learn in practice, in a safer and less stressful manner, it also means that students are assigned responsibility as a team member much later in their programme. Clearly these changes carry significant implications and challenges for nurse educators in how student nurses are taught in class and how they are prepared in the classroom for practice in the clinical setting. Absenteeism among nursing students is of substantial significance for these educators as a matter of professional concern. The Irish Nursing Board, An Bord Altranais, whose ultimate responsibility is that of patient/public safety, requires nurse education programmes to yield graduates who ‘demonstrate development of skills of analysis, critical thinking, problem solving and reflective practice’ and who can ‘act as an effective member of a health care team and participate in the multidisciplinary team approach to the care of patients/clients’ (An Bord Altranais 2005: 12). This clearly places a significant onus on nurse educators to develop, utilise and evaluate educational strategies and approaches that facilitate the development of such skills. However, An Bord Altranais also places responsibilities on the students of these programmes in terms of attendance and domains of competence in which the students must achieve the required minimum standard in order to graduate and be eligible for registration as a nurse. An Bord Altranais requires that nursing students are provided with no fewer than 1,533 hours of theoretical instruction and that ‘the process of monitoring student attendance … is declared’ (2005: 40). Depending on the style and, to a lesser degree, the subject of theoretical instruction, those 1,533 hours may be a positive, pleasant, constructive experience for students or plain drudgery. Notwithstanding this, for nursing students attendance is mandatory and has been monitored since the beginning of the current academic year in the institution where the writer is employed. Students must attend 80 per cent of a minimum of 1,533 hours. Should a student fail to do so they must undertake further prescribed work. Failure to do this to a satisfactory standard seriously threatens their eligibility to graduate and register as a nurse with An Bord Altranais. The outcome of monitoring so far is that students are indeed, for the most part, coming to class. This initiative, therefore, may appear to have been successful. However, this ‘success’ comes at a price, one that is paid not only by educators but also by students.

 


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