Students in accelerated baccalaureate nursing programs were asked about the stressors and helpfulness of coping strategies during the program. The authors report the results and implications of their study. The success of baccalaureate students in accelerated nursing programs depends on how well the students handle stress. Most of the research about stress and coping of nursing students has been conducted with traditional baccalaureate students. Those with previous healthcare experience may exhibit less stress than students who have not had previous experience. 1 A longitudinal study found that previous ealthcare experience correlated with less student stress only at the beginning of the semester. 2 Younger students do not perceive more stress than older, more mature students. 2 Neither age nor work experience was a factor influencing perceived stress in student nurses. 3 Traditional baccalaureate students expected clinical experiences to be more stressful than they actually found them to be. Students experienced higher stress levels at the beginning of the semester than at the end of the semester. 2 Both associate degree and baccalaureate nursing students perceive the clinical instructor as the primary ource of stress during clinical experiences. 4 Interactions with clinical instructors were highly stressful events for 45% of the 107 junior student nurses. 5 The most common stressful events for them included interpersonal relationships with instructors, ability to perform, heavy workload, and helpless feelings. 5 Five main themes of stress perceived by 75 students in a pediatric clinical rotation were as follows: fear of medication errors, extensive information to learn, lack of clinical knowledge, inexperience with caring for children, and clinical instructors. 3 Some students experience chaos in their lives uring nursing school. 6 Interviews of 23 traditional baccalaureate nursing students revealed major stressors as academic, environmental, financial, interpersonal, and personal factors. 7 Literature describing stressors or coping strategies of accelerated nursing students was absent. This lack of studies underscores the need for further research as the number of accelerated programs and students increases. These students have higher stress levels than traditional students. The accelerated program condenses the learning time increasing stress and potentially impeding learning, critical thinking, and student’s performances. More studies are needed to explore accelerated students’ coping strategies to deal with demanding academic, personal, and financial stressors while enrolled in these programs. Theoretical Framework The framework for this study was based on the findings of Carver et al. 9 They developed a multidimensional coping scale assessment tool, called the COPE scale inventory, which measures the relative helpfulness of various coping strategies. The starting point for much of their research was the conceptual analysis of stress and coping by Lazarus and Folkman. 10 Lazarus and Folkman base stress management on 3 processes: rimary appraisal, secondary appraisal, and coping. Primary appraisal is the method of recognizing a threat to oneself. Secondary appraisal is the method of internalizing the response to the threat. Coping is the process of carrying out that response. The outcomes of one of these processes reinvoke a preceding process. 9 The processes of stress and coping do not occur in an unbroken stream. There are a variety of ways to deal with life’s adversity. Individuals bring different coping strategies to stressful situations they encounter. Some students have more resolve than others in coping with stress to achieve their cademic goals. The items in the COPE scale are phrased to elicit usual behavior when encountering stress. Learning outcomes may vary depending on how the student copes with the stress. A variety of coping strategies are used by different individuals when they react to stress. Learning outcomes depend on the amount of stress and how the individual copes with that stress (Figure 1). Methodology Design, Setting, and Sample A descriptive design was used to explore major stressors and coping strategies of nursing students enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate programs. The study was approved by an institutional review oard plus the human subjects committees of each of the 6 participating accelerated programs. The survey was administered to a convenience sample of students enrolled in the last 12 weeks of these 6 accelerated baccalaureate nursing programs located in geographically dispersed locations. Three public universities and 3 private universities were included in the study. Most students held nonnursing degrees before enrollment in the program. One school enrolled students in both junior-level and senior-level standard program classes simultaneously. All of the accelerated programs in this study were structured with all nursing lasses completed within a 12-month calendar year. COPE Scale The COPE scale was designed to measure coping strategies of the general population and did not focus specifically on students, nurses, or nursing students. The COPE scale lists 53 individual responses to stress that fit into either problem-focused coping or emotionfocused coping. The helpfulness of each coping strategy is rated on a 5-point Likert scale. The COPE scale includes 14 categories of coping responses: active coping, planning, suppression of competing activities, restraint coping, seeking social support for instrumental easons, seeking social support for emotional reasons, positive reinterpretation and growth, acceptance, turning to religion, focus on and venting emotions, denial, behavioral disengagement, mental disengagement, and alcohol-drug disengagement. 9 The Likert scale choices for rating helpfulness of coping strategies were as follows: N/A: Not applicable, I did NOT try this strategy; 0: I tried this but it was NOT helpful; 1: Slightly helpful; 2: Somewhat helpful; 3: Extensively helpful; and 4: Completely alleviated the stress. The most helpful and least helpful coping strategies were identified y analysis of the Likert scale responses on the COPE scale. 9 The original authors established the validity and reliability of this scale. The COPE scale used in this study of 137 accelerated baccalaureate nursing students ranked an ” reliability of . 81. Researchers added survey items to the COPE scale. Nursing students were asked to describe their major stressors during the accelerated nursing program and how their stressors compared with previous stressful experiences. Stressors reported by students were summarized according to the cause of the stress. A list ranking the types of stress according o the frequency of their mention by students was compiled. Original words of the students were used to describe each stressor. The extent of stress rated on a 1 to 5 Likert scale was compared with the stressors they listed to determine patterns between high stress ratings and particular types of stressors. Results A total of 137 surveys were returned of the 280 that were distributed to accelerated nursing students for a return rate of 48. 9%. Twenty-four (17. 5%) accelerated students reported their stress level extreme at 5, whereas 60 (43. 8%) rated their stress level extensive at 4, and 45 (32. %) rated their stress level moderate at 3. Only 5 students (3. 6%) reported slight stress at 2, and none rated stress at 1 or none. Descriptive data analysis revealed differences between students experiencing high stress (4-5 of 5) and those experiencing low to moderate stress (1-3 of 5), so comparative analysis was done to determine significance of these differences. A total of 84 or 61. 3% rated their stress level as either extensive or extreme, and only 3. 6% rated their stress as either none or slight (Figure 2). Paradoxically, the students who reported that their stress during the accelerated rogram far exceeded their previous experience of stress were the students who cited the worst specific previous stressful events such as dying family members, major surgeries, divorce, loss of a farm, and building a new home. None of the students who reported that their experience of stress during the program was the same as or less than previous experiences cited any tragic previous experiences when answering this question on the survey. Only students who cited specific previous tragic experiences claimed that the stress during the program far exceeded previous stressful experiences. The emotional response to the ccelerated program caused for some individuals a higher amount of stress than previous experiences. Forty-two (30. 7%) reported ”more” stress than previous experiences without citing the duration or constancy of the stress. Among their reports were these comments: ”I never imagined this program would be as involved—I felt my first degrees had prepared me, but wasn’t expecting this much work. ” ”The pace of the program made the past year more stressful than previous experiences in education. ” ”More stress secondary to lack of free time to do activities that alleviate stress. ” Thirty-two (23. 4%) wrote that their tress during the accelerated program far exceeded previous experiences of stress. Students whose stress during the program far exceeded previous experiences wrote: ”I’ve had many many previous experiences in stress from my life including [several] daughters, a divorce, dating again, master’s degree, several new jobs. All are stressful but I don’t think they compare to this program. ” ”We lost our farm, I built a new house, I had [three surgeries], my [spouse] [was in a major accident]: The stress from this program outweighed any of these events. ” ”It was more stressful than taking care of my dying family member]—I got so emotional and depressed I had to go on [antidepressant medication]. ” Lazarus and Folkman11 could relate some of these personal responses as primary appraisals, the process of recognizing a threat to oneself. Secondary appraisal brings to mind the response to the threat. Coping strategies in the final response include antidepressants to deal with the stress. The most frequently identified major stressors students described as the amount of material to be mastered in a short time frame (Table 1). This concern was captured in phrases such as: ”PAPERWORK! The amount of paperwork seemed pointless.
I would have been more confident as a nurse had they focused more on skills and knowledge. We already know how to think, research, and write a paper. ” Helpful Coping Strategies The most helpful coping strategy category was ”seeking social support for emotional reasons” (n = 132, mean 2. 60). The second most helpful coping strategy was ”turning to religion” (n = 114, mean 2. 58). The third most helpful was ”positive reinterpretation and growth” (n = 134, mean 2. 33). The fourth most helpful was ”planning” (n = 134, mean 2. 25); fifth, ”acceptance” (n = 132, mean 2. 19); and sixth, ”seeking social upport for instrumental reasons” (n = 121, mean 1. 91). Consistently, denial (n = 39, mean 0. 49) and behavioral disengagement (n = 63, mean 0. 81) were rated least helpful (Table 2). The top 5 most helpful individual coping strategies were as follows: sought God’s help (n = 105, mean 2. 89), put my trust in God (n = 108, mean 2. 88), discussed my feelings with someone (n = 128, mean 2. 84), did what had to be done one step at a time (n = 134, mean 2. 82), and tried to get emotional support from friends or relatives (n = 127, mean 2. 80). The 10 individual coping strategies used by most students (used by more than 90 tudents, or 65. 7% of the sample) ranged in average helpfulness scores from 2. 62 to 2. 89 on a scale of 0 to 4. Five of the coping strategies had a mean score of greater than 2. 8 (Table 3). The 10 least helpful individual coping strategies ranged in mean helpfulness scores from 0. 56 to 1. 80 on a Likert scale of 0 to 4. These unhelpful coping strategies represented denial, behavioral disengagement, substance abuse escape, and restraint coping. Comparisons were made between students experiencing high stress (4-5 of 5) and those experiencing low to moderate stress (1-3 of 5). Students who rated their stress during the
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Figure 2. Extent of stress during accelerated baccalaureate nursing program (N = 137). Table 1. Major Stressors Identified by Accelerated Nursing Students (N = 137) Major Stressor Description Frequency Percentage Amount of material in short time frame 62 45. 3 Personal/family life issues 38 27. 7 Instructors/course organization 34 24. 8 Financial concerns 30 21. 9 Examinations 29 21. 2 Excessive/unnecessary paperwork 24 17. 5 Lack time for self-care/exercise/relaxation 20 14. 6 Length of class time/schedule 18 13. 1 Grades 16 11. 7 Issues with other students 14 10. 2 Clinical experiences 12 8. 8 Inadequate sleep 5 3. 6
Concern about future 3 2. 2 Lack of support 2 1. 5 Change 2 1. 5 Prioritization 1 0. 7 accelerated baccalaureate nursing program as ”5: Extreme” were not statistically different on the use of particular coping strategies than those who rated their stress as less than 5. The moderateto- low stress group found the coping strategies of ”did what had to be done one step at a time” P = . 024) and ”kept myself from getting distracted by other things” (P = 0. 021) significantly more helpful than the high stress group. Accelerated students with high stress ratings found that denial (”acted as though it hadn’t even happened”) ere significantly less helpful than those students with moderate-tolow stress (P = . 000) (Table 4). The 3 coping strategies with statistically significant differences were from the categories of active coping, planning, and turning to religion. The coping strategy category of turning to religion was the only category in which there was a significant difference between students with high stress and those with low-to-moderate stress (Table 4). Those with low stress (n = 39) reported higher levels of helpfulness of turning to religion than those with high stress (n = 73; P = . 019) (Table 4). Major Findings
Nearly two-thirds of accelerated students reported extensive to extreme stress during their condensed nursing education. This finding has not previously been documented. Major stressors were vast amounts of material to be mastered in a short time, which supports the findings of Mahat5 and Oermann and Lukomski3 that traditional nursing students experienced stress related to extensive information to learn, heavy workloads, and ability to perform. Stress related to managing personal and family life issues during a demanding accelerated program, documented in this study, supports the findings of Kirkland,7 who found financial, nterpersonal, and personal disruptions to be major stressors for baccalaureate nursing students. The Yousseff and Goodrich8 study documents the negative impact of stress on learning in accelerated nursing students. The current study did not directly assess the impact of stress on learning. The accelerated students in this study found religion and social support to be most helpful in coping with stress, whereas denial and disengagement were least helpful to them. No literature on helpfulness of coping strategies in nursing students was found, so no comparisons can be made. Findings from this study support he theoretical framework (Figure 1) in that accelerated students recognized the stress of the condensed nursing program, appraised it in light of previous experience and resolve to meet their academic goals, and adapted helpful coping strategies to promote positive learning outcomes. Those who Table 2. Level of Helpfulness of COPE Scale Categories by Accelerated Nursing Students: Frequency and Mean (N = 137) Coping Category Frequency Mean Seeking social support for emotional reasons 132 2. 60 Turning to religion 114 2. 58 Positive reinterpretation and growth 134 2. 33 Planning 134 2. 25 Acceptance 132 2. 19
Seeking social support for instrumental reasons 121 1. 91 Focus on and venting of emotions 127 1. 84 Active coping 135 1. 79 Suppression of competing activities 134 1. 75 Mental disengagement 113 1. 46 Alcohol-drug disengagement 37 1. 46 Restraint coping 108 1. 31 Behavioral disengagement 63 0. 81 Denial 39 0. 49 Means based on a 1 to 4 scale, where 1 is least and 4 is most. Table 3. Ten Most Helpful Individual Coping Strategies (N = 137) Individual Coping Strategy Category of Coping Strategy Students Mean Sought God’s help Turning to religion 105 2. 89 Put my trust in God Turning to religion 108 2. 88 Discussed my feelings ith someone Seeking social support for emotional reasons 128 2. 84 Did what had to be done one step at a time Active coping 134 2. 82 Tried to get emotional support from friends or relatives Seeking social support for emotional reasons 127 2. 80 Prayed more than usual Turning to religion 99 2. 75 Tried to grow as a person as a result of the experience Positive reinterpretation and growth 128 2. 73 Tried to find comfort in my religion Turning to religion 106 2. 73 Talked to someone about how I felt Seeking social support for emotional reasons 124 2. 70 Asked people who have had similar experiences what they did
Seeking social support for instrumental reasons 92 2. 62 Means based on a 1 to 4 scale, where 1 was least and 4 was most. found unhelpful coping strategies of denial and disengagement to impede their learning used them rarely or quickly substituted more helpful coping strategies to optimize their learning. Implications Nurse educators may facilitate student success by fostering awareness of coping strategies and by helping to minimize perceived stressors. They can support accelerated students to make a plan of action, suggest channels to deal directly with issues, connect them with peer or professional mentors to hare advice about the problem, and encourage students to seek help from their faith traditions. Accelerated nursing instructors must anticipate high stress times for accelerated students, help nursing students plan ahead for those times, and avoid scheduling multiple examinations and deadlines at the same time. Nurse educators can help students learn time management skills to more effectively navigate the large amount of material in a short time frame. Monitoring frequency and characteristics of assignments can ensure that accelerated nursing students are learning the most information possible for their ime on task. Instructors can help students prioritize assignments and develop a ”one day at a time” perspective. Open-door policies encourage students to bring pressing issues to quick resolution. Accelerated students should be assessed for signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Nurse educators are in a pivotal position to encourage individuals to seek assistance from counselors or healthcare professionals if they suspect students are struggling to cope with academic or life stressors. Graduates from a previous accelerated nursing class may be invited to visit with new accelerated nursing students to advise hem on ways to cope with the stresses of the accelerated program. Further Research Further study is needed to determine the impact of stress and coping strategies on learning outcomes and academic success. Longitudinal studies measuring accelerated students’ stress levels at various points before, during, and after the program would be helpful to isolate specific causes of stress and coping strategies that alleviate or mitigate stress. Graduates of accelerated programs should be studied to see whether they experience similar stress as novice nurses. Longitudinal studies comparing accelerated graduates with raditional baccalaureate nursing graduates might reveal differences in the ways students transition into the registered nurse role and deal with those stressors. Various interventions to promote positive coping strategies and stress management skills should be studied. Conclusion Accelerated students experience moderate to severe stress during their academic experiences. Stressors reflect financial, personal, professional, or academic challenges. They mobilize a variety of healthy coping strategies. Support systems among peers and family or friends are key to helping them cope effectively with stress. Although aculty members cannot eliminate stress, they can alleviate it through pacing, scheduling and structured support systems. Faculty members can help students overcome their stressors and help students grow through the challenges of an accelerated program. Accelerated students are a bright hope for the future of the nursing profession. REFERENCES 1. Oerrmann M, Standfest K. Differences in stress and challenge in clinical practice among A. D. N. and B. S. N. students in varying clinical courses. J Nurs Educ. 1997;36(5):228-233. 2. Admi H. Nursing students’ stress during the initial clinical experience. J Nurs Educ. 997;36(7):323-327. 3. Oermann M, Lukomski A. Experiences of students in pediatric nursing clinical courses. J Soc Pediatr Nurses. 2001;6(2):65. 4. Oermann M. Differences in clinical experiences of A. D. N. and B. S. N. students. J Nurs Educ. 1998;37(5):197-201. 5. Mahat G. Stress and coping: junior baccalaureate nursing students in clinical settings. Nurs Forum. 1998;33(1):11-20. 6. Shipton S. The process of seeking stresscare: coping as experienced by senior baccalaureate nursing students in response to appraised clinical stress. J Nurs Educ. 2002;41(6):243-255. 7. Kirkland M. Stressors and coping strategies mong successful female African- American baccalaureate nursing students. J Nurs Educ. 1998;37(1):5-13. 8. Youssef F, Goodrich N. Accelerated versus traditional nursing student: a comparison of stress, critical thinking ability and performance. Int J Nurs Stud. 1996;33(1):76-82. 9. Carver S, Scheier M,Weintraub J. Assessing coping strategies: a theoretically based approach. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1989; 56(2):267-283. 10. Lazarus RS, Folkman S. Stress, Appraisal and Coping. New York: Springer; 1984. 11. Lazarus RS, Folkman S. Transactional theory and research on emotions and coping. Eur J Pers. 1987;1:141-169.