Introduction The purpose of this study was to develop, implement and evaluate the impact of an educational intervention, comprising an innovative model of clinical decisionmaking and educational delivery strategy for facilitating nursing students‘ learning and development of competence in paediatric physical assessment practices. Background of the study Nursing students have an undergraduate education that aims to produce graduates of a generalist nature who demonstrate entry level competence for providing nursing care in a variety of health settings. Consistent with population morbidity and health care roles, paediatric nursing concepts typically form a comparatively small part of undergraduate curricula and students‘ exposure to paediatric physical assessment concepts and principles are brief. However, the nursing shortage has changed traditional nursing employment patterns and new graduates form the majority of the recruitment pool for paediatric nursing speciality staff. Paediatric nursing is a popular career choice for graduates and anecdotal evidence suggests that nursing students who select a clinical placement in their final year intend to seek employment in paediatrics upon graduation. Although concepts of paediatric nursing are included within undergraduate curriculum, students‘ ability to develop the required habits of mind to practice in what is still regarded as a speciality area of practice is somewhat limited. One of the areas of practice where this particularly impacts is in paediatric nursing physical assessment. Physical assessment is a fundamental component of nursing practice and competence in this area of practice is central to nursing students‘ development of clinical capability for practice as a registered nurse. Timely recognition of physiologic deterioration of patients is a key outcome of nurses‘ competent use of physical assessment strategies, regardless of the practice context. In paediatric nursing contexts children‘s physical assessment practices must specifically accommodate the child‘s different physiological composition, function and pattern of clinical deterioration (Hockenberry & Barrera, 2007). Thus, to effectively manage physical assessment of patients within the paediatric practice setting nursing students need to integrate paediatric nursing theory into their practice. This requires significant information processing and it is in this process where students are frequently challenged. The provision of rules or models can guide practice and assist novice-level nurses to develop their capabilities (Benner, 1984; Benner, Hooper-Kyriakidis & Stannard, 1999). Nursing practice models are cognitive tools that represent simplified patterns of expert analysis employing concepts that suit the limited reasoning of the inexperienced, and can represent the =rules‘ referred to by Benner (1984). Without a practice model of physical assessment students are likely to be uncertain about how to proceed with data collection, the interpretation of paediatric clinical findings and the appraisal of findings. These circumstances can result in ad hoc and unreliable nursing physical assessment that forms a poor basis for nursing decisions. The educational intervention developed as part of this study sought to resolve this problem and support nursing students‘ development of competence in paediatric physical assessment. Methods This study utilised the Context Input Process Product (CIPP) Model by Stufflebeam (2004) as the theoretical framework that underpinned the research design and evaluation methodology. Each of the four elements in the CIPP model were utilised to guide discrete stages of this study. The Context element informed design of the clinical decision-making process, the Paediatric Nursing Physical Assessment model. The Input element was utilised in appraising relevant literature, identifying an appropriate instructional methodology to facilitate learning and educational intervention delivery to undergraduate nursing students, and development of program content (the CD-ROM kit). Study One employed the Process element and used expert panel approaches to review and refine instructional methods, identifying potential barriers to obtaining an effective evaluation outcome. The Product element guided design and implementation of Study Two, which was conducted in two phases. Phase One employed a quasiexperimental between-subjects methodology to evaluate the impact of the educational intervention on nursing students‘ clinical performance and selfappraisal of practices in paediatric physical assessment. Phase Two employed a thematic analysis and explored the experiences and perspectives of a sample subgroup of nursing students who used the PNPA CD-ROM kit as preparation for paediatric clinical placement. Results Results from the Process review in Study One indicated that the prototype CDROM kit containing the PNPA model met the predetermined benchmarks for face validity and the impact evaluation instrumentation had adequate content validity in comparison with predetermined benchmarks. In the first phase of Study Two the educational intervention did not result in statistically significant differences in measures of student performance or self-appraisal of practice. However, in Phase Two qualitative commentary from students, and from the expert panel who reviewed the prototype CD-ROM kit (Study One, Phase One), strongly endorsed the quality of the intervention and its potential for supporting learning. This raises questions regarding transfer of learning and it is likely that, within this study, several factors have influenced students‘ transfer of learning from the educational intervention to the clinical practice environment, where outcomes were measured. Conclusion In summary, the educational intervention employed in this study provides insights into the potential e-learning approaches offer for delivering authentic learning experiences to undergraduate nursing students. Findings in this study raise important questions regarding possible pedagogical influences on learning outcomes, issues within the transfer of theory to practice and factors that may have influenced findings within the context of this study. This study makes a unique contribution to nursing education, specifically with respect to progressing an understanding of the challenges faced in employing instructive methods to impact upon nursing students‘ development of competence. The important contribution transfer of learning processes make to students‘ transition into the professional practice context and to their development of competence within the context of speciality practice is also highlighted. This study contributes to a greater awareness of the complexity of translating theoretical learning at undergraduate level into clinical practice, particularly within speciality contexts
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