From Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse: Easing the Transition
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Vocationally prepared nurses, most of whom are women, experience unique challenges when they complete a university degree program. And yet, educational research examining how educators and employers can support their transition into a new professional role is limited. This qualitative descriptive study investigated the experiences of 10 Licensed Practical Nurses in the LPN BN program at Athabasca University in Canada. The project spanned three years and included data collection points at the beginning, middle and end of students’ program of study. The primary objective of the research was to explore the complexities of students’ experiences during their university education as they transitioned from the role of Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse. A secondary objective was to contribute to educators and employers theoretical understandings of this group of adult learners and the instructional support processes they need and value during their learning and initial work experiences. The project was framed from a constructivist theoretical perspective and applied George Kelly’s repertory grid methodology from the field of personal construct psychology. Data sources included before and after repertory grids, a questionnaire and audiotape-recorded transcribed interviews. Researchers met with participants individually at the beginning, middle and end of their program. Grids were constructed in the initial interview and then revisited during subsequent interviews. The changes that occurred, or did not occur were identified and discussed in the audiotape-recorded transcribed interviews. NVIVO software was used to manage the data and assist with the process of identifying themes. Member checking confirmed that the themes authentically represented the students’ experiences. Results included the following three overarching themes. At the beginning of their program, the students experienced feelings of loss as they envisioned how their new role would not involve the ‘hands on’ bedside nursing care they valued. In the middle of their program, the students experienced feelings of isolation and lack of instructional support as they struggled to cope with academic demands while maintaining families and full time employment in healthcare settings. At the end of their program, the newly graduated nurses experienced a sense of confidence once others in the workplace related to them as Registered Nurses and not Licensed Practical Nurses. This project is significant in that it offers insight into our understanding of how this group of adult learners can be supported towards success in both their university education and in their new jobs. The longitudinal nature of the research and the use of repertory grids as an educational research methodology illustrate a unique approach to exploring students’ experiences.