Experiences of supernumerary status and the hidden curriculum in nursing: a new twist in the theory-practice gap?

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Aims and objectives.This paper aims to increase our understanding about how student nurses' experiences of supernumerary status are embedded in the hidden curriculum in clinical practice and contribute to the theory-practice gap in nursing.Background.Current literature suggests that the hidden curriculum exists in many professional curricula and that it functions to socialise students into professional behaviours and practice. However, in nursing, there is a gap in our understanding of how these socialisation processes have been influenced by supernumerary status and what forms the hidden curriculum might take currently in clinical practice.Design.An ethnographic case study design.Method.Data were collected in four sites using fieldwork in clinical practice as well as interviews with students, mentors and key stakeholders, an online survey of student bodies and curriculum analysis in four universities. The findings in this paper are drawn from the qualitative fieldwork and interviews and were analysed thematically.Results.The findings suggest that supernumerary status is an important aspect of the hidden curriculum in clinical learning for nursing students; that students are expected by trained staff to work while they learn and that on registration, they are expected to be competent to work immediately as registered nurses. These expectations are at odds with those of academic nurses and contribute to a theory-practice gap for student nurses. These expectations form part of the hidden curriculum that shapes the clinical context, and students have to learn to negotiate their status as supernumerary students in practice to meet these expectations.Conclusion.Consequently, students have to learn in a disintegrated learning context where opposing values of learning exist.Relevance to clinical practice.To reintegrate student nurses' learning, educators in universities and clinical practice have to understand how the hidden curriculum and expectations around supernumerary status among trained staff affect learning for students.

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