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Anxiety in Nursing Education and Staff Development from Class to Floor

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

In our concept analysis series regarding the application of Patricia Benner’s theory of novice to expert, we touched on the premise of new educator anxiety. In this post, we will review some of the considerations for learner anxiety, from class to floor.

The concept of stress reduction during learning is very important, whether we are referring to the nursing student experiencing test anxiety or nervous feelings about their first day of clinical, or the novice nurse taking on their first assignment load. And anxiety does not stop there, it can be felt long into nursing careers and must be recognized and understood by nursing leaders. Anxiety and stress can be associated with being evaluated. Evaluation happens all the time. We see it formally take place through written assignment and examination, clinical skills lab tests, and via professional performance reviews and appraisals, just to name a few. However, evaluation also continuously takes place informally. During their day-to-day interactions, their patients, patient support systems, nursing peers, other students, and multidisciplinary team members evaluate them. While in school nursing students can collaboratively work to meet educational needs, which prepares them for practice where nurses work to collaboratively meet patient needs.

An important component of a nurse educator’s role is to create, or work to ensure, students have the opportunity to function within an environment that allows them to perform at their best. An environment that allows for a reasonable amount of anxiety, coupled with ongoing and regular support, has the potential to foster positive learner experiences and build competencies and confidence. Understanding that learner anxiety impacts development from class to floor is paramount to functioning as an effective support and leader. Let's be the mentor that we once needed or wished that we had.

Below are some approaches that may be helpful for reducing anxiety:

1- Time. Students and nurses must give themselves enough time to prepare for their work. Rushing through new material or steps of a process promotes panic and overlooked details. Time is needed for critical thinking and developing new insights.

2- Communication. Needs and understandings must be effectively communicated, both inside and outside of the classroom. Effective listening skills involve thoroughly understanding what is being communicated and asking questions if further clarification is needed. Feedback on thoughts should also be offered. Modeling this behavior encourages active and participatory listening in others. It is also important to be sure that what has been communicated to others has been understood.

3- Mindfulness. Mindful attention and action. Slow down, observe, relate, retain, and remember. (We also look deeper at this in another post on mindfulness in practice.)

4- Self-care. Nurses frequently educate their patients on appropriate self-care, however, it is also critical that those sentiments not only be echoed, but also embodied and modeled. Taking care of the caretaker can go a long way in reducing anxiety.

5- Teamwork. Students and novice nurses benefit from a sense of belonging. Learning from each other and teaching one another can also support success in reducing anxiety.

As nurse educators and leaders of our field, let’s consciously make ongoing efforts to recognize and also remember how anxiety feels for the novice learner. Then, let’s go the next step in lending grown support and developed wisdom—let’s be the change.

For continued reading outside of this blog check out this article and also this one too!

Ignite Note: Andy and Heather have worked professionally with those struggling with mental health issues for years and hold a special regard for helping people with anxiety.


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