Two-thirds of nursing students believe it’s wrong to lie to patients – twice as many as in 1983

UK researchers recreated a 1983 survey of 176 nursing students by posing the same questions to 618 students at a School of Nursing in Greater Manchester.

As well as differences in attitudes, they discovered that the profile of nursing students had changed considerably in the 22 years between surveys, particularly when it came to age, sex and religion.

Key findings included:

– 66 per cent of students taking part in the 2005 survey felt it was unprofessional to lie to a patient, compared with 33 per cent in 1983.

– About a fifth of the students in both surveys were unsure about whether keeping the truth from a patient was acceptable. (18 per cent in 2005 and 20 per cent in 1983).

– 54 per cent of the 1983 students felt that a good nurse should be prepared to change shifts at short notice to help out. By 2005 this figure had fallen to 23 per cent.

– 1983 students were much more decisive about their attitude to shift changes. Only six per cent were unsure of their response, compared with 25 per cent in 2005.

– Five per cent of the 1983 students were over 22 years of age. By 2005, 63 per cent were over 22 and 37 per cent were over 30.

– 11 per cent of the 2005 sample were male, compared with three per cent in 1983.

– The number of students belonging to a specific religion remained stable (71 per cent in 1983 and 72 per cent in 2005) but there were a much greater number of religions named in the more recent survey.

“The demographic changes found in this study are clear and important” says Martin Johnson, Professor in Nursing and Research Director at the University of Salford, Greater Manchester.

“Today’s nursing students are more diverse in their educational attainments and life experiences because they are, on average, more than a decade older. Other research shows that they are also more likely to have greater domestic and family responsibilities.

“Older nursing students may also be more mature and independent in their opinions than younger nurses.

“However, we suspect that the greater trend towards honesty with patients is part of a wider change in social attitudes to honesty in health care and the need to provide accurate information to patients. It may also reflect the fact that in 1983, when the first study was carried out, nurses were much more accepting of a health care culture where protecting patients from bad news about a serious illness was the default position.

“And the reduced willingness to working last-minute shift changes found in the 2005 study is probably due to the fact that older nurses are less likely to live on site in residences and more likely to have domestic responsibilities to juggle.”

The 2005 survey was carried out on a voluntary basis and all students were guaranteed anonymity. This approach yielded a 100 per cent response rate.

“We feel that research like this is very important as it can help guide future nursing education and ensure that values are developed that help to provide the very best patient experience“ says Professor Johnson.

“Similar studies should be undertaken internationally to examine the diversity of nursing values in differing cultural and demographic settings.”

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