Nursing studies

How storytelling can help close the nursing student attainment gap

Nursing curricula need to reflect the diversity of students’ backgrounds and experience

Nursing curricula need to reflect the diversity of students’ backgrounds and experience

Storytelling was an opportunity to reflect on personal and shared experience
Picture: iStock

How to tackle the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) student attainment gap in higher education is a dilemma for UK universities.

BAME students will achieve lower grades than their white counterparts – even when starting with the same qualifications. 

This disparity is highlighted in a report by Universities UK (UUK) and the National Union of Students (NUS) that showed a student’s race and ethnicity can significantly affect their degree.

The report showed there was a 13% difference in attainment of first or upper-second-class degrees between BAME students and their white peers in 2017-18.

It said UK universities must eliminate this gap, and identified five steps they can take. These are:

  • Provide strong leadership
  • Have conversations about race and changing cultures
  • Develop racially diverse and inclusive environments
  • Get the evidence and analyse the data on the attainment gap
  • Understand what works

A learning environment that excludes individuals and groups, is ultimately putting these
students' attainment at risk Picture: iStock

An inclusive nursing curriculum

The issue of same credentials, unequal outcomes shows the need for a more inclusive curriculum. At Kingston University School of Nursing, we employed various approaches to address this with our BSc pre-registration students, including storytelling. 

Working with director of StoryAID Eli Anderson, we explored the idea of storytelling as a means of giving insight into individuals’ experience, and as a platform for the unheard stories of BAME nursing students.

‘Storytelling reminded me to feel proud about my culture, and my name. When you are studying other people’s cultures, you need to start by being proud of your own’

Winnie Lukwago Sendyose, nursing student

The storytelling sessions began in 2017, facilitated by Eli and me. First-year students from a BAME background were invited to the two-hour sessions.

We ran four sessions over six months, covering subjects including discovering self, managing stress, using rhythm, voice and story, mindfulness and connecting with heritage.

Each was a stand-alone session, so students could join in at any time and talk about their experiences and concerns in a safe space, with the discussions tailored to those who attended. 

A total of 35 students accessed one or more sessions over the period.

What is storytelling and how does it work?

Sharing and self-expression are at the heart of storytelling  Picture: iStock

Storytelling is the giving and receiving of information consciously and unconsciously. It can be played out in numerous ways, including voice, rhythm, reflection, the written word and body movement.

The need for the storytelling sessions was clear because those who attended were keen to express themselves. Our sessions created a community that could learn from the experiences that were explored.

Applying the themes that emerged to students’ clinical practice

Although Eli and I had agreed a nominal structure, in reality, the sessions accommodated content the students wanted to include. Eli looked at the ways stories could be told and offered different methods, while I examined how the stories related to the academic experience by collecting themes from the students and inviting discussion about what they might mean for them personally and for their practice.

BAME students need to be able to meet and share experience of identity, culture and discrimination, and to consider how they can develop resilience. 

Storytelling has allowed BAME students' voices to be heard, and so makes a vital contribution to achieving a more inclusive curriculum.


Winnie Lukwago Sendyose

Storytelling gave students a sense of pride and belonging

Nursing students Winnie Lukwago Sendyose and Cordelia Ngozi Ofoche, who are now in their third year, were among the first to attend. 

‘I had had enough,’ remembers Ms Lukwago Sendyose, who had reached crisis point at the time. ‘I was working on my first essay and had received feedback that my draft was completely off track. I was frustrated and needed to step away. When I saw the email about the session, I had to come.’

Ms Ngozi Ofoche remembers: ‘I felt out of place so decided to join a group. I wanted to be part of the university. I wanted support and to belong.’

‘Sessions brought out confidence in me and I now feel more able speak out’

Cordelia Ngozi Ofoche, nursing student

In one session, on identity and names, I was struck by students' struggles to have their names pronounced correctly. 

‘I don’t like it when people do not pronounce my name correctly,’ says Ms Ngozi Ofoche. ‘I love my name. I am proud of it.’

Ms Lukwago Sendyose says: ‘The session reminded me to feel proud about my culture, and my name. When you are studying other people’s cultures, you need to start by being proud of your own.’

Nursing student Cordelia Ngozi Ofoche

Boosts to students’ self-confidence 

Another session encouraged students to recognise the power of their voices.

‘When I started, I was so timid,’ says Ms Ngozi Ofoche. ‘Sessions brought out confidence in me and I feel more able speak out.’

‘People can suffer in silence, but this gives us space to open up,' says Ms Lukwago Sendyose. 'I gained the confidence to put myself forward as support for new students the following year.’

Ms Ngozi Ofoche says: ‘Storytelling gave us the opportunity to interact with peers, overcome anxiety, fear, stress and other difficulties. 

‘Being in direct contact with the storyteller and lecturer in a non-academic setting improved our confidence and aspirations.’

The programme – which won a Kingston University award in 2017 – highlighted the importance of reaching students in less traditional ways, and how personal and academic needs must be considered when planning the curriculum. 

Judith Francois is senior lecturer in clinical leadership and management in the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education at Kingston University and St George’s University of London

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