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Published Date

11th April 2017

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This case study will demonstrate how the introduction of a bespoke induction package throughout first year improved student retention figures and developed a sense of belonging and professional identity in a group of mental health nursing students.



Iain McGowan

Project Description

It has been recognised for decades that attrition rates in nursing give cause for concern (Orton 2011). A 2006 news report suggested that attrition rates in the United Kingdom were, on average, 25% with an incumbent cost to the taxpayer of £57 million annually (Nursing Standard 2006). This does not include the additional burden of beginning the training process again or the additional cost in finding replacements for staff shortages.

The attrition rate in year 1 mental health nursing at Ulster in 2011 was 8.9%. Whilst this was around a third of the national attrition rate it raised some concerns in light of the public investment and was high in comparison to other courses within the Faculty of Life & Health Sciences. It was also noted that NSS scores on student satisfaction consistently achieved greater than 90% each year. Thus we were left with the paradoxical situation in which a high proportion of students in year 1 left the programme but those that stayed reported high levels of satisfaction with the course. It was appropriate therefore to examine the experiences students had in the first year of the programme.


Mental Health Nursing students are commissioned by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland (DHSSPSNI). Each student receives a non- means tested bursary and their fees are paid directly by the DHSSPSNI. This equates to an investment on behalf of the public of approximately £30,000 per student over the three years of the programme. Hence there is a need to ensure that programmes produce safe and effective mental health nurses as well as providing value for money for the public purse.

Evaluation Approach

An eight- item Likert scale was used for the evaluation of the induction period and was administered at the end of semester 1. Students were asked to rate their agreement with each item on a four point scale- Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. The evaluation took place at the beginning of semester 2 and was completed by 43 students.

Qualitative data was also collected by focus group at the end of semester 1.  Findings from this showed that students were content with the induction, particularly because it provided them with the opportunity to meet their peers and form sound relationships. The social activities used as part of the induction allowed the students to engage with the course and establish a sense of belonging to the course.

Evidence of Impact

  • Attrition rates dropped to 7.5% in 2014/ 2015- one of the lowest in the sector
  • One of our student partners was the first ever nurse to be a finalist in the UK Student Volunteer of the Year competition. He was also runner up in the Northern Ireland Student Nurse of the Year in recognition of his work on this project and winner of the Ulster University Student Union Representative of the Year. Another student, involved in the meetings with year 1 students, won the UK wide Nursing Standard mental health nurse of the year.
  • In 2014 our overall satisfaction score in the NSS was 100%

Reflective Commentary

When engaging with students enrolled in multi- professional courses/ modules;

  • the induction period is an important part of the programme in developing relationships and professional identity:- there are numerous reports detailing the importance of the induction period and this case study adds to this body of literature. The survey showed that students developed a sense of professional identity as well as personal and professional relationships with their peers.
  • discipline specific induction is effective in building identity and a sense of belonging:- our mental health nursing students reported great value in spending time with their peers in the mental health programme. They report developing relationships and a sense of identity as a mental health professionals as a result of their time together during the induction period.
  • on-going contact with students throughout the first semester fosters a sense of belonging:- changing the induction to a semester long ‘event’ increased student contact with mental health staff in contrast to previous years. Engagement with mental health staff facilitated the delivery of field specific information in relation to their up-coming placements. This allowed discussion about their fears and hopes about their placement experiences
  • needs of students will vary annually, hence an on-going dialogue with students is required in the planning of future induction programmes.


Field/programme specific sessions have been adopted across the school.


This case study was part of a three-year What Works? Student Retention & Success Change Programme funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, co-ordinated by the Higher Education Academy (now, Advance HE), and Action on Access.

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