The perceptions of nurse teachers, student nurses and preceptors of the theory-practice gap in nursing and the effect of factors seen to influence the gap on knowledge skill and satisfaction in student nurses

  • Jo Corlett

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The theory-practice gap has been debated within the nursing profession for many years. This thesis describes a two-stage study exploring the theory-practice gap.
In stage one, a qualitative approach used techniques borrowed from grounded theory. Twenty-three group interviews were conducted to identify commonly-held perceptions of the theory-practice gap by nurse teachers, student nurses and preceptors. Open coding, comparative analysis and the collapsing o f categories, resulted in eight themes emerging from the data. These were: definitions of theory and practice, the existence of a theory-practice gap, idealism versus realism, lack of time, sequencing, lack of communication between educational institutions and clinical areas, the link teacher role and views of how the theory-practice gap could be closed.
In the second, quantitative stage of the study, the theme of how interviewees in stage one thought the theory-practice gap could be reduced was translated into three factors. The three factors were: whether a preceptor or nurse teacher taught students theoretical elements relating to a medical and rehabilitation clinical speciality, whether the preceptor and nurse teacher collaborated on the content of what was to be taught to students and whether students went straight to, or delayed the medical and rehabilitation placement following theoretical input. A full factorial experimental design was used to study the influence of these three factors on theoretical knowledge, practical skill acquisition and student satisfaction. A sample of first year undergraduate student nurses from one institution o f higher education (n=19) was studied, providing sufficient power to perform almost all tests undertaken (>80%).
The second stage of the study showed that students taught by a preceptor increased their theoretical knowledge score more than those taught by a nurse teacher from a baseline score. Collaboration between the preceptors and nurse teachers on the content of what was to be taught to students had no effect on the increase in theoretical knowledge, although the power to detect a 15 percentage point difference for medical scores had a power of less than 70%. There were no differences in theoretical knowledge relating to a medical placement whether students went straight to or delayed this clinical experience, whilst those delaying rehabilitation placements, demonstrated an increase in theoretical knowledge of rehabilitation. The results of this study may help in suggesting strategies aimed at reducing the theory-practice gap.
Date of AwardMar 2002
Original languageEnglish

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