“I worked really hard to get here.  I wouldn’t want to go back.”  Exploring the narrative of one first-in-family nursing student during their university transition.

“I worked really hard to get here. I wouldn’t want to go back.” Exploring the narrative of one first-in-family nursing student during their university transition.

Our guest Blogger this week is Associate Professor Sarah O’Shea from the University of Wollongong. I have known Sarah for nearly ten years and for much of the time we lived next door to each other. Sarah and I have much in common … we were both the first in our families to attend university, both immigrants to Australia, both mums who struggled with ‘imposter syndrome’ as we juggled PhD candidature and full time work.  Perhaps most important though is our shared commitment to student success and the incredible joy we experience when we watch our former students cross the stage at graduation, particularly when they have struggled with challenging life experiences. 

Since moving to Wollongong Sarah’s academic journey has flourished and I have watched with admiration her inspirational First in the Family research. In this post Sarah shares Marlee’s story of transition to university, what it means to her and her family, and how it illustrates the types of hurdles that many first in family nursing students encounter.

Nursing programs are the third most popular choice of study area in Australia [1]. In 2014 over 17,000 students started a nursing degree; 2,316 of these were men [2]. Over a third of nursing students are in the lowest socio-economic band and many are returning to education after a significant gap in learning [1]. There is a tendency for many universities to operate within a discourse of deficit focusing on what students lack instead of welcoming and celebrating the cultural wealth or strength they bring with them [3]. Working within a mass university system characterised by increased student diversity also means that it can be very difficult to remain mindful of the student as an individual.

My research with students has focused on foregrounding individuals’ subjective experience of attending university with an emphasis on the narratives of learners who are defined as disadvantaged or belonging to equity categories. This work has highlighted the transformative potential of attending university [4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9], the identity work that students (particularly women) undertake [10, 11], as well as approaches to retaining and supporting diverse student populations [12, 13].

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Listening to and telling stories fulfils a very basic need in people. As an educator hearing students’ stories has provided entry into the lived experience of attending university, offering rich insights into both the unique trajectories of learners and also providing a means to recognise common patterns or experiences across populations.

I would like to share one such student story that whilst unique also reflects common themes echoed across our First-in-Family (FiF) project. Marlee (pseudonym) participated in a study that focused on students who were first in their families to attend university [12]. FiF students are a significant proportion of the student population globally and while not recognised as a equity group in Australia are commonly regarded as being “at-risk” of attrition due to financial, cultural and academic issues [5, 6, 14,]. The FiF category can also be regarded as a ‘supra equity’ category [13] which traverses existing equity categorisations.

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What a good nurse! Reflections on stories that stereotype and those that don’t

What a good nurse! Reflections on stories that stereotype and those that don’t

This week I am delighted to introduce our guest blogger, Professor Margaret McAllister, a friend and warmly regarded colleague. Margaret is a gifted story teller and researcher whose written works and conference presentations are both engaging and provocative. In this post Margaret dispels some of the myths associated with ‘the good nurse’ and challenges educators to consider the use of negative stories in their teaching.


Tracy, a captivating storyteller herself, has previously written in her blog about the benefits to healthcare students and professionals when they contemplate powerful stories. Illness and resilience stories humanise the healthcare experience, and because they are often imbued with layers of meaning, can prompt critical reflection. This reflection can go several ways – we can be motivated to think back on the story and perhaps our own lives, and we can be urged to think ahead towards the future, perhaps changing the way we think or act. This is the transformative power of compelling stories. Another benefit of stories is that they come in multiple modes and so, when available, we can access them by reading, viewing, or listening.

Tracy and I have partnered up with colleagues on several occasions to share stories and teaching approaches designed to deepen learners’ engagement [1, 2]. Stories don’t have to be factual to have impact; well-drawn fictional tales can teach us important lessons on being human – think of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Good Will Hunting, for example.

I and several other scholars have argued elsewhere that the media don’t always get it right in conveying the complexity of nursing practice and mainstream films and tabloid newspapers can be criticised for perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes about nurses and doctors. In 2004 the Telegraph screamed, “Are young nurses too posh to wash?” which really didn’t do too much good for nursing’s long struggle to achieve university status equivalent to our colleagues in medicine, physio, occupational therapy, and the like. The hidden stereotype in such a claim is that to be a nurse you don’t need a university education and indeed it is something to be ashamed of.

Another ongoing stereotype about nursing, sometimes effectively achieving sympathy and gratitude in the public, is the idea that nurses are angelic – omnipotent and omniscient – knowing the answer to every query, and able to anticipate a patient’s every need. This is a fairly unreasonable stereotype and  a difficult one to live up to! It is also dehumanising as nurses aren’t angels, they are human beings, capable of doing good, but also capable of making mistakes.


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Crossing the threshold … a journey of transformation from lay person to professional nurse

Crossing the threshold … a journey of transformation from lay person to professional nurse


At the lower end of the ancient Canongate in Edinburgh there is a worn sandstone lintel over a small seventeenth-century doorway. Inscribed in Latin are the words: ‘Pax intrantibus, salus exeuntibus’ … Peace to those who are entering, and safety to those about to depart. This engraving serves as a reminder that there is a threshold which marks the demarcation between what lies within, that place of familiarity and relative security, and what lies beyond … a place that is unknown and sometimes frightening ~ Meyer, Land & Baillie (2010).



I deliberately titled my ‘Blog Educating Nurses … Transforming Lives’ as I believe that one of the most rewarding aspects of being an educator is guiding nursing students as they step across the threshold and embark on the journey of transformation from layperson to qualified health professional. During this process of transformative learning, disorientating dilemmas become a catalyst for growth and change (Mezirow, 2000), and students learn to question taken-for-granted ideas, attitudes, beliefs, habits of mind and feelings, as they begin to experience fundamental shifts in perspective. This transformation requires learning activities that challenge students to think more deeply and broadly, to question their assumptions and prejudices, and to see their world and the world of healthcare through a new lens.

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The ripple effect of authentic patient stories

The ripple effect of authentic patient stories

Too often as educators we are short-sighted; seeing only the immediate impact of our teaching on students, but forgetting that every hour of every day a nurse is providing person-centred, safe and effective care because of something they learned from us. Emails like the one below remind us of the impact of our teaching …

Hi Tracy

I had to share this moment with you! I have been in hospital having surgery. I was extremely impressed at the precise way procedures were carried out by one of the nurses, especially with taking obs and the pain management etc. She was fantastic, not missing a detail in all the procedures she was doing. So much so that I commented on the professional way she went about her duties. It prompted me to ask where she had trained and it was Newcastle.

The conversation continued and she mentioned learning about a girl called Vanessa. She said she had never forgotten what she had learned about patient safety from Vanessa’s story. I then let her know that I was Vanessa’s father. She became a bit overwhelmed and said she would never forget that moment.

Thanks for being part of Vanessa’s legacy.

 Regards Warren Anderson


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