Corona crisis tests commitment of nursing students


Internships this spring have been positive for a majority of nursing students, but have convinced some of them to choose another path

Frontline care

The coronavirus has been a baptism of fire for many nursing students. Called to do internships during a major health emergency, many have emerged from the experience with a strengthened sense of vocation, a Ghent University study has found.

“Doing an internship during a health crisis seems not only to reinforce the commitment to becoming a nurse, but also detects more effectively those nurses who are motivated, competent and have sufficient confidence in their own abilities,” the study concludes.

This also comes through in comments collected during the study. “Covid-19 is a unique experience to have as a nursing student,” one final-year said. “It’s good to know that I can do it effectively.”

“I’m happy I can make a difference to the patients,” another student said, “and be with them when they are cut off from those closest to them.”

It is best to start with an intrinsic interest in the profession. Economic motives or job security are not enough

- Veerle Duprez

The reverse, however, is also true, with crisis conditions prompting nearly one in five student nurses to turn to other studies, or to drop out completely.

The study was carried out by Ghent University Hospital and Ghent University’s Centre for Nursing and Midwifery, working together with the university’s Developmental Psychology Unit.

Between 30 April and 20 May the researchers surveyed 1,079 nursing students, around 8% of the total studying for the profession in Flanders. Some 60% had internships during the coronavirus crisis.

Overall, 82% of those surveyed were satisfied with their choice of study, while 12% were thinking about changing direction. The remaining 6% had already dropped out.

Motive is key

According to Veerle Duprez, of Centre for Nursing and Midwifery, the difference is down to the original reason for choosing nursing as a career. “It is best to start a nursing course with an intrinsic interest in the profession,” she explained. “Economic motives or ideas about job security are not enough, and we now see that students with these motivations are quitting.”

Some of the 12%, however, said they felt compelled to take up internships during the crisis and received insufficient support from their mentors. If they also had doubts about their abilities, the chances of a negative outcome would only be increased.

As a result, the researchers conclude that nursing education should take care to build up student commitment. “The study shows that students retain their resilience and motivation, or see it increase, when they feel competent and experience a connection with their fellow students and teachers, when they have a say, and go into work prepared,” observed Branko Vermote, a motivational psychologist at the university.

Photo: Dirk Waem/BELGA