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Are nurses under-confident or over-confident? Choose one!

January 10, 2004 -- Today BBC News Online ran an important though flawed story about a new computer test British psychologists have developed to measure nurses' ability to handle stress and make decisions, as part of a National Health Service program to train "First Contact Practitioners," a "new breed" of graduate-prepared nurse who will "perform medical duties in GP surgeries."

According to the report, the test focuses on nurses' ability to take the initiative and to overcome inter-personal adversity. One portion measures reactions to a scenario in which a nurse is "reduced to tears by a demanding GP;" the issue is whether the test taker would continue to work with the GP, or try to avoid referring problems to that person in the future. Introducing this type of scenario arguably reinforces a stereotype of nurses as weak and emotional, as the article did not point out. It did note that the researchers were specifically looking to identify such weakness, which could be addressed with the help of a mentor. The psychologists' research had evidently indicated that a lack of confidence prevented some nurses from reaching their full potential, and "often resulted in unnecessary deferral to physicians for decision-making." The researchers reportedly found other nurses to be "over-confident" and "prone to follow treatment programmes which were not necessarily appropriate."

To the extent these findings are supported and statistically significant, they seem worthy of serious consideration. However, the story cited no outside experts who might have commented on the findings, quoting only "Dr. Raymond Randle," who helped to design the test. It seems likely that Dr. Randle is not a nurse, and if that is the case, the article also failed to obtain a reaction from any nurses about the underlying research, the new computer test or the new breed of nursing professional.

See the BBC's January 10 article "Computer test of nurses' 'bottle.'"

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