Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Nursing

Schools and Centres

Nursing and Midwifery

First Supervisor

Professor Selma Alliex


Continuing education is widely accepted as a means to remain competent in nursing and knowledgeable about the numerous changes in health care and the health care environments in which nurses work. The ward-based staff development nurse (SDN) role is considered a vital support for clinical staff (Armstrong & Laschinger, 2006; Conway & Elwin, 2007), with the role responsible for organising orientation and continuing education for nursing staff in their respective area of specialty. There is a dearth of research on the lived experience of the hospital-based SDN, most of whom have no formal training or preparation for their role. Newly appointed SDNs can experience a difficult transition, resulting in role tension, role conflict and role ambiguity (Sayers & DiGiacomo, 2010). This can make the job of SDN unappealing and result in a challenge for recruitment and retention to the role.

A tertiary teaching hospital in Perth, Western Australia (WA) implemented a staff development organisational model and framework to provide role support for their SDN workforce. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of the hospital’s SDNs’ transition from a ward-based role to the role of the SDN.

The study used a qualitative research with a phenomenological approach, which facilitated thematic analysis of 10 SDNs’ lived experiences of their transition to role. Demographic data and responses from open-ended semi-structured questions were gathered from the participants during one-on-one interviews, and then subjected to content and thematic analysis.

Through the process of data analysis, it became clear that each participant was talking about identifiable dimensions of the experience of transition to the SDN role. In analysing the data, themes emerged suggesting the SDNs’ lived experience of the transition to role involved them going through a process to achieve a state of ‘being on xi track’. The following themes emerged from the data analysis: (1) stumbling in the dark, (2) becoming aware of the scaffolding, and (3) using the scaffold.

This study provides findings that contribute to the current knowledge around the transition of a nurse to a hospital-based clinical nurse educator. The study uniquely contributes to the nurse education body of knowledge, by providing a rich description of the nurse transitioning to SDN experience in the hospital setting, and the factors that acted as facilitators and barriers.

The findings of this study provide insight into the process that occurs during the transition from nurse to SDN. The study explains this transition and identifies an organisation’s scaffolding support for a successful role transition. Attributes of the SDN role transition were also identified. The findings from the study can be used to better inform an organisation as to the factors that facilitate or impede transition to the SDN role, role orientation and role support for the SDN.

Results of this study provide new knowledge and information useful to hospital based educators, staff development departments and administrators, hospital nurse managers, and ultimately, the recipients of nursing care. Increased knowledge regarding transition of a nurse into an SDN role may generate new or improved organisational scaffolding strategies, resulting in an expedient, timely transition to role. Finally, implications and recommendations from the study findings were provided for nursing education administrators, as well as recommendations for further research.

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