Sense of belonging key to rural nursing

In rural hospitals, nurses must be "expert generalists" who can adjust to diverse medical situations in a pinch, unlike their urban counterparts who are often working within a single ward.

For fourth-year students completing their preceptorship – in which they work side-by-side with a registered nurse – working in a rural hospital offers a steep learning curve, as well as a unique opportunity to be part of a tightly knit health-care team. Rural hospitals often lack specialized medical resources, requiring all health-care practitioners to band together to offer patients the best care possible, explains Dr. Monique Sedgwick, who began her tenure as an assistant professor in the School of Health Sciences in July 2008.

Dr. Monique Sedgwick believes that nursing is as much about joining that community of nurses as it is about learning technical skills.

Surprised at the lack of nursing research on the experience of students in the rural hospital setting, Sedgwick decided to fill in the gap with her own dissertation research. Participants in her study were located over a 640,000 sq. km area throughout central and northern Alberta, northern British Columbia and the Yukon.

Students' feeling of belonging has emerged as a cultural theme from the data she's already collected and appears to be a key ingredient to their success in the preceptorship. This doesn't surprise Sedgwick, as it's important for all nurses.

"Becoming a professional, registered nurse is as much about joining that community of registered nurses as it is about learning the technical skills of what nurses do," she says. "Sometimes, I think we assume that nurses only do the technical things, and if you're good at that, you're a good nurse. But, I think my research points to the fact that it's more than that."

In any nursing situation – whether in a hospital or other health-care facility – nurses seldom work autonomously. Treating patients requires communicating with a wide range of other health-care professionals.

"I think it becomes very important for nurses to connect with each other and with all members of the team – from the physicians, physiotherapists, social workers, emergency-care providers like paramedics, administrative support workers, housekeeping, and dietary and records keeping personnel," she says. "It's a very stressful job, and we need to be able to confer with each other, and consult with each other so the best patient care is provided."

Ultimately, Sedgwick hopes her work will benefit students, and she's excited about two upcoming projects.

"My goal is to explore the student experience so that as educators, we can bring forward that information to help students better prepare for that clinical setting."