Could curtailing practice hours improve students’ experience of clinical placements?

New nursing student numbers are up but Nursing Standard attrition research suggests a complex picture, with issues including quality of clinical placements key

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Nursing as a career is experiencing a surge in popularity, with an 8% rise in the number of students starting courses this autumn.

The increase has been attributed to the profession’s high profile during the pandemic.

The truth behind the UCAS numbers – student attrition

This enthusiasm is good news. Those who embrace the hard work, skills and innovation – as well as nursing’s many challenges – are to be welcomed.

But how will this input turn into a positive output for nursing?

Results from our annual investigation of nursing student attrition somewhat dim the apparent glow of the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) figures.

They show one in three students didn’t complete their course last year as planned. Okay, 2020 was a highly unusual year but the drop-out rate has hovered around 25% for years now, demonstrating the challenge faced by the profession.

Practice hours and quality of clinical placements

Workforce experts, registered nurses and nursing students cite two main concerns: having the staff and capacity to provide clinical placements and the quality of those experiences. Obviously, the two go hand-in-hand.

The number of practice hours required of undergraduates by the Nursing and Midwifery Council in the UK is almost three times higher than that stipulated for nursing students in Australia or the US.

And, even with the best intentions, capacity to provide high-quality learning experience is much constrained.

A nursing undergraduate described how she was one of five students on a ward on one day and while the staff were wonderful it was ‘impossible for them to keep track of so many students and ensure learning and patient safety’.

So, is it time to reduce the practice hours and focus on getting the best experiences on those placements?

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