A pioneering approach to interviewing and selecting nursing students

Kingston University and St George’s, University of London have been examining how best to identify students with the right values and attitudes to become compassionate and caring nurses.

Photography of Nursing students.The initiative began in advance of the report into failures of care at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust by Robert Francis QC, published in February 2013. The report emphasised the need for universities to identify people with the right attributes to enter the profession. Mr Francis QC recommended that aspiring nurses should have to demonstrate their values, as well as a desire to care for patients, through an aptitude test.

By the time the report was published, the Kingston and St George’s selection process was already obtaining better insight into whether candidates have the qualities needed to complete a nursing degree and go on to provide excellent patient care.

”Nursing is a complex job that relies on relationships with patients,” Beattie Dray from the Faculty, said. “Nursing students need a combination of intellectual and social skills, as well as attributes such as empathy, honesty and integrity – traits not often revealed through more-traditional interview techniques.”

Applicants must now attend an assessment day where they are asked to complete a series of short tasks or mini-interviews. They move through six assessment stations, each with a different scenario requiring them to complete a task, comment on a situation or take part in a role-play. “Lecturers, health professionals and health service users observe and assess candidates’ potential for leadership, teamwork and decision-making,” said Beattie. “We also look at whether they consider the impact of their decisions, whether they rely on prejudicial assumptions and whether they are aware of their own strengths and limitations.”

The scenarios were developed by lecturers, service users, students and clinicians from the Faculty’s partner NHS Trusts to test communication skills, empathy, decision-making and problem-solving, ethical insights and integrity, initiative and teamwork. In one situation, interviewees were asked to break the news to someone that their family pet had passed away. “To deliver this kind of news sensitively, you would have to employ the skills you could need to call upon as a nurse,” Beattie explained.

The NHS employs nearly 370,000 qualified nursing staff, the single largest workforce in the service. These nurses are crucially important in delivering high-quality patient care and ensuring patients, and their families, have positive experiences of their care.