When lives depend on speaking up

Published 10 May 2018

Speaking up for patient safety can be difficult for nursing students on clinical placement, however lives may depend on it, as University of New England (UNE) lecturer Anthea Fagan outlined at the 7th International Nurse Education Conference in Canada this week.

Anthea, who lectures Bachelor of Nursing and Master of Nursing Practice students within the UNE School of Health, is undertaking a PhD on nursing students’ perceptions and experiences of advocating for patients in the workplace. She was chosen from 950 applicants to present at the prestigious conference.

“Students asking questions, making statements of opinion or calling for a response is critical to patient safety,” Anthea said from Banff. “They are challenged on a number of levels and may fear the consequences, which include negative impacts on their learning, failing their placement or being ostracised.”

While on clinical placement student nurses are trying to fit into a new and unpredictable environment. Anthea is finding that their preparedness to advocate on behalf of patients and voice their concerns depends on their moral and ethical beliefs, willingness and level of confidence.

“Students’ perceptions of themselves are key: some say ‘I’m just a student’, while others believe it’s part of their job to speak up for patient safety,” Anthea said. “The inferior position student nurses hold in the healthcare hierarchy creates tensions and challenges that impact their decisions and actions.

“I hope my research findings will ultimately be applied to learning and teaching, and workplace practice. Speaking up is the responsibility of all health professionals, students and registered practitioners alike. Students are our future healthcare workers and should feel safe to speak up. Ultimately, patient safety is the priority.”

Anthea supports students on placement in her role as Clinical Coordinator Academic, and was inspired to conduct the research after hearing of their challenges. While previous studies have explored whistle-blowing or medical interns speaking up, this is the first research of its kind to focus on the experiences of nursing students.

“My aim is to improve the overall student learning experience, prevent errors in practice and keep patients safe,” Anthea said. “I hope the research will also assist nursing education providers in their curriculum development and ensure that managers and student supervisors are better equipped to provide appropriate support for student nurses. We need to create a culture of safety that enables them to speak up.”

The conference attracts over 500 nursing, midwifery and healthcare delegates from tertiary institutions and industry bodies. “I feel very privileged to be attending and meeting people with such a wealth of knowledge and experience from around the globe,” Anthea said.