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Current teaching of psychology in undergraduate adult and comprehensive nursing curricula

11 July 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 13


The need for nurses to understand human behaviour in the context of effective caring has long been established; however, there is no consensus over the teaching and learning of psychology. Recent reported failures in compassionate care have prompted academics and clinicians to revisit this discussion and examine the challenges this poses to education. The author therefore recognises the need to take stock to see if we are any closer to answering the critical question of how to help students use psychology to understand themselves and the people they will be caring for. A literature review was conducted to examine current research and texts that address the teaching of psychology to undergraduate adult nursing students. The aim was to frame recent discussion in the context of current pre-registration education, rather than revisit the historic argument. Three common themes emerged from the review: the content of psychology taught; the methods of teaching psychology to nurses; and the application of psychological theory to nursing practice. These themes became the focus of further content analysis. A consensus is emerging from the traditionally opposed skills and theory camps that psychological literacy is essential to caring. Psychological content must not be diluted, neglected or eroded, and the essentials of this need to be defined and taught in a manner that is simple to understand and can be applied to real people. In undergraduate education, there is an increasing emphasis on structured reflection, which is used to forge links between student cognition, emotion and behaviour to reinforce theoretical psychological concepts. The similarities between models of reflection and cognitive behavioural psychological conceptualisation are a possible area for future investigation.

Nurse education has traditionally focused on nursing skills and virtues. Nightingale, hospital-based nurse training reflected the role of the nurse as a caregiver and the physical skills required to deliver care safely, efficiently and virtuously. Formal discussion around nurse education moving into tertiary education began in New Zealand and Australia in 1972 following the Carpenter report (Carpenter, 1971), after which the shift to higher education took place. In the UK, Project 2000 (United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, 1986) brought about a similar change of focus from technical training to universities, with the educational emphasis placed on physical, social and behavioural sciences.

Over the past 10 years, the emphasis in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Australia has shifted back to the centre ground in recognition that skills taught in traditional training are essential (Grundy, 2001; An Bord Altranais, 2004; Nursing and Midwifery Council, 2005). Following the scandal of the care failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust in the UK, the Francis (2013) report suggested that the teaching of emotional care might have been missed and had been partly responsible for serious failures in the delivery of nursing care. The report recommended that the focus of nurse education changed to a skills-based approach in the delivery of compassionate care, and a strong argument has developed calling for a return to the traditional, competency-based approach (Bradshaw, 2017).

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