When two worlds collide : a Heideggerian interpretive phenomenological study into the experience of assessing 'failing' nursing students within clinical practice : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctorate of Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Clinical nurse educators employed by New Zealand polytechnics experience challenges when assessing Bachelor of Nursing students in clinical practice, particularly students who are considered to be “failing”. This phenomenological study sought to explore the experience of clinical assessment and why assessors fail to award “failing” nursing students a fail grade. Fourteen clinical nurse educators, employed within three New Zealand polytechnics were interviewed about their experiences of educating and assessing nursing students’ clinical practice. All participants used a preceptorship model of clinical teaching. The interviews were analysed for key themes using Heideggerian Interpretive Phenomenology. The study revealed tensions for participants between being-in the world-of-nursing as well as being-in the world-of-education. Less than half the participants had not failed a nursing student in clinical practice, despite having concerns about their safety to practice. Participants felt ill prepared for their role as educators and assessors. The phenomenon of care was revealed when assessing failing students. Participants acknowledged that some students are thrown into the world-of-nursing; they wanted to care for students by not failing them and questioned whether assessment should occur in the first year. As students progressed through the programme, participants used the phenomenon of care for the health consumer to make a judgement about a students’ competence. The responsibility to fail nursing students was frequently disburdened to others. The ambiguity of clinical assessment tools, especially the use of competencies, and the lack of progression created challenges for assessors. The threat of students appealing the fail grade inhibited less experienced participants from failing students. Clinical nurse educators lack adequate preparation to educate and assess nursing students. The limitations of this study are its small sample size and lack of generalisability. This study showed that nursing students are passing clinical assessments despite concerns about their competence to practice. Further research is warranted to include a larger sample size and different clinical teaching models, as well as researching the phenomenon of failing from a student perspective.