What Is My Role As Professional Nurse in Guiding Students to Professionalism?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Magda Cunze, BaCur (NsgEd/Mng)
Life Healthcare, Johannesburg, South Africa
Gisela H. Van Rensburg, DLittetPhil, MACur, BACur (Hons), BACur
Department of Health Studies, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


The purpose of the presentation is to inform, guide and support professional nurses regarding their role in guiding students to professionalism


An exploratory-descriptive qualitative approach was followed. The population constituted for this study are the final year students of the programme: Diploma in General Nursing, R683 of the South African Nursing Council. Non-probability, purposive sampling was done to select the participants. The study was conducted at two campuses of the private nursing education institution situated in one of the nine provinces in South Africa. Two World Café conversation focus groups were conducted to collect the data. A total of thirty participants formed part of each conversation. After two sessions of the World Café conversations during which 60 students participated, data saturation was achieved.


Three major themes were identified namely the professionalism of professional nurses, need for student support and factors related to the teaching and learning environment. This presentation will focus on the role of professional nurses in the clinical environment to guide students to professionalism.

Exposure to positive behaviours by professional nurses in the clinical environment will give students the opportunity to develop their own professional behaviours by observation and imitation of professional nurses. The categories identified for factors related to the professionalism of professional nurses are professional attitude and behaviour, the professional role and the professional image of the professional nurse.

Perry (2009) wrote that the attitude of professional nurses as role models is reflected to the student through actions and behaviours, that influences the nature of the relationships the professional nurse has with the student.

Professional attitude and behaviour of professional nurses were clear in the participants' identification of the need for role models, values of the profession and communication as they requested profesional nurses to portray characteristics such as positive attitudes and behaviour, high self-esteem, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, self-respect, integrity, fairness and energy. Professional nurses as role models are resourceful and confident; approachable, available and friendly; helpful and understanding; welcoming and have the students’ interests at heart. The role model therefor must be an advocate for students.

Brown et al (2012:606) described the professional role concept as the “development of a nursing identity over a period of time and is the expected function of a member of a specific profession” and is of the opinion that the development of a nursing identity is an important factor during the students’ professional development process. Leadership, professional support and lifelong learning was identified as important attributes needed by professional nurses in supporting students. In his/her professional role, the nurse is responsible for teaching students how to care for patients, colleagues, themselves and their profession and to accept responsibility for their own professional roles. To do this, they need to role model effective and ethical behaviours and actions.

Portraying the image of nursing depends on how the members of the profession portray themselves. Oosthuizen (2012) stated that it is up to the nursing profession itself to look at the image of the profession as portrayed in the media and to change that image positively.

Brown et al (2013) revealed that nursing education institutions’ curricula and workforce policies must be developed in such a way that students are able to develop an understanding of their role, are successfully acculturated and assimilated into the profession and organisation, and acquire the correct professional knowledge, skills and values from expert role models. This related to the findings in this study where participants expressed their desire for professional nurses to show them professionalism which they, the students, would imitate.


Role models are valuable resources in any clinical health setting, however given the sophistication of skills and attributes associated with ideal role models it is evident that many professional nurses will only provide partial opportunities to imitate their behaviours as role models to student nurses.

Student nurses will continue to practice the behaviours imitated by role models they believe to be important. Therefor it is important that professional nurses are aware of the key role that their behaviour plays in the process of socialising students into the profession. Forming role models of tomorrow is largely dependent on the present practices of professional nurses in the clinical environment.

To answer my question in the title, professional nurses need to ensure:

  • Role models who act professional and portraying professional attitudes and behaviours;

  • who live the professional role; and

  • portray a professional image.