Current concerns however exist, nationally and internationally, about the quality of the programmes offered by higher education institutions, which seemingly produce less competent graduates which therefore questions their employability. Further concerns about the lack of alignment and relevance of the education programmes to the job market; the consequent gap between the competencies and level of competence expected by the employer and those which graduates possess and challenges with regards to the graduate’s transition from higher education to practice has led to the need for evaluations of programmes through graduate tracer studies (Griesel & Parker, 2009).
Graduate nursing programmes are not spared the concern that the nurse’s level of competence needs to be sharpened and nursing programmes made more relevant to nursing practice to ensure improved patient outcomes.
Aim: This study aimed to trace graduates from a Bachelor of Nursing programme offered at a university in the Western Cape, South Africa, to establish the adequacy and relevance of the programme to the graduate’s world of work; and to identify potential gaps and measures to address these gaps towards improving the nursing programme.
Methods: The research method was quantitative, using a non-experimental survey design. The survey was conducted during 2014. All graduates who completed the Bachelor of Nursing programme in December 2013 at the identified university, their professional nurse supervisors at the clinical facilities during 2014 and patients who received direct care from the graduates were purposively selected to participate in the survey. The survey for graduates focused on the graduate’s biographical and education background; and the relevance of the Bachelor of Nursing degree to their current job. The professional nurses completed a survey which established the discipline / type of health care facility in which the graduate was being assessed; the skills required for the graduate to perform competently in that facility; and the skills which the graduate lacked to perform competently in the facility. The questions were a combination of single-item and multiple-item closed-ended questions, filter and follow up questions as well as ranking questions. The patient survey was developed from Larrabee and Putman’s (2006) Caring behaviour Inventory and included sections on the patient’s biographical and health information and a section on patient satisfaction rating.
Data was analysed quantitatively using SPSS version 21. Frequency distributions and measures of variability were established from the data. Correlation and covariance were done. Chi square test were used to test for associations. The confidence interval was set at 0.95.
Results: Graduates and their professional nurse supervisors provided insight into the adequacy, relevance and gaps in the programme with reference to the four disciplines for which graduates qualify at the end of the programme, namely, general nursing science, community nursing science, psychiatric nursing, midwifery and clinical nursing practice.
A total of 37% of the students reported that they fared best theoretically in discipline general nursing science while 28% reported that they did not fare well in the same discipline. The discipline that students reported enjoying the most was midwifery 40%, followed by community nursing science at 28%.
The discipline in which students reported faring best clinically was psychiatric nursing science while 19% of the students reported that they did not fare well clinically in the same discipline. Students reported that the clinical learning opportunities, during the 4thyear of study, were excellent 30% while 44% reported that it was good. Only 2% reported it as being unsatisfactory.
Forty two percent (42%) of the 4thyear students reported that they received excellent support from registered nurses at the clinical facilities. Cumulatively, 77% reported that the support they received was either excellent or good.
Forty two percent of the students reported that by the 4thyear of study, the Bachelor of Nursing programme had adequately prepared them for their role as a registered nurse, while 44% reported that their preparation was good. Only 2% reported that their preparation was inadequate. Overall, their satisfaction with being a student in B Nursing Programme was reported by 26% of the students as being very happy 26%; 37% were happy 37% and only 2% were unhappy.
The finding of professional nurse confirmed the students rating of themselves as being adequately prepared. The patient’s rating of the care they received from the graduates were both positive and negative.
Conclusion: It is hoped that the findings of this study will facilitate the alignment of Bachelor of Nursing programmes in the country to the needs of the job market and that graduates from this programme will in future be more employable and meet the patient’s needs for care.
Recommendations: The alignment of the educational programme to the skills required to practice as a professional nurse is the main recommendation to strengthen the programme further and to ensure positive patient outcomes. While recommendations from the patient satisfaction survey highlighted the need to enhance the soft skills required for patient care.