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Are new mental nurses prepared for practice?

Andrew Walsh (Senior Lecturer, Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)

Mental Health Review Journal

ISSN: 1361-9322

Article publication date: 8 June 2015




As well as working with people who have serious mental health problems, mental health nurses have to maintain a values-based approach to their interactions with mental health service users. However, some have suggested that students and newly qualified nurses are unprepared for this role. The purpose of this paper is to explore perceptions of practising mental health nurses, third year mental health nurse students and lecturers about how well students are being prepared for practice.


A two-phase phenomenological study within a mental health nurse training institution and with staff from a Mental Health Trust in England. The study collected questionnaire responses from 87 participants (42 third year mental health nurse students, 39 practising mental health nurses and six nurse lecturers). A Likert scale questionnaire with written feedback produced data that formed the schedule for ten subsequent focus groups with 41 participants from the above categories. Focus group data were analysed using a process of interpretive phenomenological analysis. This led to the development of three main study themes. The transition from student to registered nurse is difficult, the importance of learning from experience, violence and aggression is difficult to manage, working effectively with victims of sexual abuse or those who have a diagnosis of personality disorder is difficult.


Whilst the study found some evidence to suggest the development of positive values there is a perception that newly qualified mental health nurses lack confidence in other important areas. Participants also expressed doubt about whether it was possible to prepare someone for practice completely. Another finding was that the relationship between student and the mentor is critical to the quality of practice learning.

Research limitations/implications

Study limitations are that this is a small selection of participants from one particular area. The researcher attempted to ensure that this study has internal validity. However, it is possible to question the extent to which findings may apply to other areas. Therefore, this study may be most useful to others as a basis for the discussion and comparison of these issues within mental health nurse educators.

Practical implications

The need to encourage proactive learning approaches in students is emphasised. Universities should facilitate the sharing of clinical learning experiences as well as developing realistic training in the management of violence and aggression. It is possible to question how well nurses are prepared to work with the physical health needs of service users.


This paper gives information about mental health nurse preparation for practice, which will be of value to training organisations as well as to employers of newly qualified mental health nursing staff.



The author would like to acknowledge the assistance given by Hadjer Bensiali, Frances Byrne and Professor Maxine Lintern in the development of this paper.


Walsh, A. (2015), "Are new mental nurses prepared for practice?", Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 119-130.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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