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An interpretive description of the influence of cultural differences and social context upon the learning environment as perceived by baccalaureate nursing students Helewka, Anna Maria

Abstract

The cultural landscape of nursing education is shifting as individuals from various social and ethnic backgrounds aspire to enter the nursing profession. Despite curricular innovations, nursing programs continue to have difficulty retaining culturally diverse nursing students (CDNS). The majority of nursing education literature is concerned with ethnically diverse students, not reflecting expanded definitions of diversity evident in the general culture literature. Therefore, my intent was to add to an understanding of the CDNS in nursing programs of today, exarnining how CDNS construct cultural differences within their learning environments and how they perceive these differences to influence the learning experience. Also, I hoped to discover how CDNS relate social context to learning success by exarnining how they describe and explain feelings of social comfort and discomfort. I chose the qualitative research approach, interpretive description, as my design (Thorne, Reimer Kirkham & MacDonald-Emes, 1997), the purpose being to describe the lived experience of CDNS as interpreted by the participants of this study in order to understand the meaning of this experience. In-depth interviews were conducted with five baccalaureate nursing students who self-identified as being culturally diverse. The analytical process began with a preliminary organizational framework, which oriented the study to the existing literature and was the basis of the inductive analysis that occurred throughout the study, Morming the data collection and analysis of data in subsequent interviews. The interviews were tape recorded and transcribed verbatim. The findings of the study represent the culmination of this inductive analysis and can be considered an interpretive description of the lived experiences of these CDNS. The participants of this study characterize a different aspect of diversity from that which is contained in the literature—they considered themselves diverse due to various socio-economic and lifestyle choices rather than ethnicity. The findings that emerged revealed three common themes — being culturally diverse, experiencing cultural diversity and managing cultural diversity. These themes represent a process describing how each participant conceptualized the meaning of diversity, experienced the impact of their diversity, and made decisions as to how to manage their diversity within their learning environment. The findings support discussions in the literature that focus on the importance of the personal and social contexts to the learning environment of CDNS (social comfort). Also, the findings reflect general discourses on cultural diversity that suggest that the increase in cross cultural encounters and exposure to diversity experienced by individuals in today's world make it imperative that an expanded and dynamic perspective of cultural diversity be considered.

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