“Safety Means Everything”: An Ethnographic Methodology to Explore the Formation of Professional Identity in Nursing Students

Jette Sørensen, Mari Holen, Ida Skytte Jakobsen, Palle Larsen, Dorthe Susanne Nielsen

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftsartikelForskningpeer review


The aim of this qualitative study is to explore how various conditions within educational contexts impact nursing students’ experiences of becoming professional nurses and how these conditions affect their agency and the formation of their professional identities.

Nursing education is essential to becoming professional and competent in caring for patients. A strong professional identity in nursing contributes to better patient outcomes and improves the well-being, retention, and recruitment of practitioners in the health care system. At the same time, research indicates that development of a professional identity during education is challenging and needs further investigation.

The qualitative research design draws on the theoretical and methodological framework of critical psychology practice research. The practice research design and close collaboration with users ensure the continuous development and implementation of theory and practice.

The data used in this study originated from ethnographic fieldwork, which involved following two nursing students through their final clinical placement training at the Geriatric Department of a university hospital in Denmark. Additionally, nursing students in two classes were observed as part of their nursing education practice at a university college from April to July 2022. The participant observational design, combined with in-situ interviewing, facilitated a comprehensive understanding of the students’ engagement in social practices and interactions within the context of nursing education.

Our results show how the conditions of nursing students’ everyday lives have a critical impact on their self-understanding and journey to becoming competent and professional nurses. Three main themes emerged from the analysis: (1) Perception of safety, (2) Motivation for learning in different communities of practice, and (3) The meaning of learning culture and role models.

The development of nursing students into professionals is profoundly influenced by factors affecting their ontological safety that are deeply embedded in socio-cultural and educational contexts. The results underscore the need to foster ontological safety in nursing education. Creating safe, participatory, and supportive learning environments is essential to the holistic development of students into caring, competent nurses. Educators and stakeholders must remember their crucial role in this context and focus on establishing these environments to facilitate students’ sense of belonging in the nursing profession.
TidsskriftNurse Education in Practice
StatusE-pub ahead of print - 15 feb. 2024


  • Uddannelse, professioner og erhverv
  • Læring, pædagogik og undervisning
  • Undersøgelsesdesign, teori og metode


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