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Decision precision or holistic heuristic? Insights on on-site selection of student nurses and midwives.

Macduff, Colin; Stephen, Audrey; Taylor, Ruth


Colin Macduff

Audrey Stephen

Ruth Taylor


Concerns about quality of care delivery in the UK have led to more scrutiny of criteria and methods for the selection of student nurses. However few substantive research studies of on-site selection processes exist. This study elicited and interpreted perspectives on interviewing processes and related decision making involved in on-site selection of student nurses and midwives. Individual and focus group interviews were undertaken with 36 lecturers, 5 clinical staff and 72 students from seven Scottish universities. Enquiry focused primarily on interviewing of candidates on-site. Qualitative content analysis was used as a primary strategy, followed by in-depth thematic analysis. Students had very mixed experiences of interview processes. Staff typically took into account a range of candidate attributes that they valued in order to achieve holistic assessments. These included: interpersonal skills, team working, confidence, problem-solving, aptitude for caring, motivations, and commitment. Staff had mixed views of the validity and reliability of interview processes. A holistic heuristic for overall decision making predominated over belief in the precision of, and evidence base for, particular attribute measurement processes. While the development of measurement tools for particular attributes continues apace, tension between holism and precision is likely to persist within on-site selection procedures.


MACDUFF, C., STEPHEN, A. and TAYLOR, R. 2016. Decision precision or holistic heuristic? Insights on on-site selection of student nurses and midwives. Nurse education in practice [online], 16(1), pages 40-46. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 28, 2015
Online Publication Date Jul 6, 2015
Publication Date Jan 31, 2016
Deposit Date Feb 29, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jul 7, 2016
Journal Nurse education in practice
Print ISSN 1471-5953
Electronic ISSN 1873-5223
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Issue 1
Pages 40-46
Keywords Selection of students; Nursing and midwifery; Onsite processes; Interviewing
Public URL


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