Transitioning to university as a nursing student: Thematic analysis of written reflections

Steven Pryjmachuk, Caitlin McWilliams, Bernie Hannity, Janet Ellis, Jane Griffiths

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The international literature has largely conceptualised transition to university as a process of adjustment to both the social and the academic demands of university life. Several factors influence this process including: student, parent and university staff expectations; student preparedness; and student belongingness. Moreover, some student groups (groups well-represented in nursing) appear to have particular difficulty in successfully transitioning to university life.

Study Aims
To explore first year nursing students' experiences of the transition to university; to compare nursing students' experiences with those of other disciplines and identify ways of easing the transition for nursing students.

As part of their coursework, first year nursing students at an English University submitted a 500-word, formative reflection on the transition to university. Anonymised reflections from 161 students were available to the researchers for thematic content analysis; 50 reflections, however, proved sufficient for ‘information power’.

Two main themes emerged from the data: (i) ‘managing expectations’, an overarching theme that permeated most of the reflections; and (ii) ‘practical tools and support aids’, the practical, concrete actions that either the university took, or the students developed themselves, to ease the transition. Both themes embraced inter-related academic, social and personal domains.

Nursing students' transition experiences are similar to those of other university students. However, the particular demographics of nursing student cohorts amplifies certain aspects of the transition experience: more students who are likely to struggle with transition but also more students who embrace the developmental aspects of going to university. Transition requires joint enterprise between students and university staff, especially in terms of expectations and the support required to become independent learners. Transitions can be eased by tapping into student resourcefulness and seeing transition as a gradual process that cuts across academic, social and personal dimensions rather than as a short, one-off event.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNurse Education Today
Early online date8 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Nursing students
  • Transition
  • First-year experience
  • Reflection
  • Thematic content analysis


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