The concept of reflection in nursing: qualitative findings on student and teacher perspectives

Nurse Educ Today. 2012 Jul;32(5):e8-13. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2011.10.007. Epub 2011 Nov 8.


Background and aim: This study sought to increase the understanding of the concept of reflection within nursing. The research focused on the social construction of reflection through a post-registration, palliative care programme in the United Kingdom (UK).

Design and participants: An interpretive ethnographic approach was used to study reflection from the perspective of students and teachers, whilst paying attention to local organisational, contextual and cultural issues.

Methods: Data collection included: observations of teaching and learning interactions, interviews, extracts from programme documentation and student reflective learning contracts (RLCs).

Findings: Findings identified a learning culture committed to reflection as a valuable way of helping nurses make sense of their practice. Similar to Barnett's (1997) concept of 'critical being', students and teachers described reflection as a way of 'being' rather than simply 'thinking' or 'doing', since reflection intertwined propositional, affective and active elements. This process of reflective 'being' was connected with a humanistic approach to nursing, which emphasises the importance of actively using and expressing oneself in order to care for people.

Conclusion: This paper contributes empirical knowledge on the meaning of reflection in nursing regarding: teachers' and students' perspectives, reflection as a way to make sense of practice, and reflection as a way of 'being' and its association with humanistic nursing.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Education, Nursing / organization & administration
  • Faculty, Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Nursing Education Research
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Theory*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Students, Nursing / psychology*
  • Thinking*