A qualitative content analysis was done to determine how South African newspapers reported issues related to nurses and nursing. A search of the database SA Media of Sabinet was performed for the period 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2009, using the keywords, “nurse and nursing”. A purposive sample of 161 newspaper articles from national and regional newspapers was analysed using a qualitative, inductive approach. Four themes emerged from the data. Three of the themes painted a negative picture of the profession and the professional values of its practitioners. Only one theme reflected positively on the nursing profession in South Africa. Content analysis has been described as suitable for qualitative studies and enabled the researcher to sift through large volumes of data, contained in 161 newspaper articles.
The analysis yielded four themes. This paper reflects on two of the themes namely "poor working environments" and " death, suffering, humiliation, misconduct and incompetence" that suggest an erosion of nursing values. It paints a dismal picture of the clinical learning environment where students are socialised into the professional role in addition to what is taught in the formal curriculum. Negative learning experiences in the clinical area often relate to attitudes and conduct which contradict moral and ethical values taught in the classroom. Students will internalise poor practice if it is the norm. Positive role models, mentors and preceptors are however able to counteract the effects of negative role models and shape the attitudes and behaviour of students and newly qualified nurses.
Conclusion: This paper investigates the role of the hidden curriculum in cultivating values in nurses and proposes teaching strategies to enhance socialisation of student nurses to become competent, caring and moral practitioners.