Concept formation: A supportive process for early career nurses



Publication Details

Thornley, T. & West, S. (2010). Concept formation: A supportive process for early career nurses. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19 (17-18), 2574-2579.


Background: Individuals come to understand abstract constructs such as that of the 'expert' through the formation of concepts. Time and repeated opportunity for observation to support the generalisation and abstraction of the developing concept are essential if the concept is to form successfully. Development of an effective concept of the 'expert nurse' is critical for early career nurses who are attempting to integrate theory, values and beliefs as they develop their clinical practice.

Aim: This study explores the use of a concept development framework in a grounded theory study of the 'expert nurse'. Design: Qualitative.

Method: Using grounded theory methods for data collection and analysis, semi-structured interviews were conducted with registered nurses. The participants were asked to describe their concept of the 'expert nurse' and to discuss their experience of developing this.

Results: Participants reported forming their concept of the 'expert nurse', after multiple opportunities to engage with nurses identified as 'expert'. This identification did not necessarily relate to the designated position of the 'expert nurse' or assigned mentors. When the early career nurse does not successfully form a concept of the 'expert nurse', difficulties in personal and professional development including skill/knowledge development may arise.

Conclusion: To underpin development of their clinical practice effectively, early career nurses need to be provided with opportunities that facilitate the purposive formation of their own concept of the 'expert nurse'. Formation of this concept is not well supported by the common practice of assigning mentors.

Relevance to clinical practice: Early career nurses must be provided with the time and the opportunity to individually develop and refine their concept of the 'expert nurse'. To achieve this, strategies including providing opportunities to engage with expert nurses and discussion of the process of concept formation and its place in underpinning personal judgments may be of assistance.

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