Mercy Faculty Find that Applying Active Learning Supports Nursing Student Success

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Cristina Dumitrescu, Ed.D., assistant professor and program director of Mercy’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program, and Marc Campo, Ph.D., professor of physical therapy, have published an article in the Journal of Social Science Research on their study “Predictors of Academic Success in First Semester Nursing Students.”

While Dumitrescu and Campo’s study originally intended to measure the relationship between academic success and self-efficacy, they instead uncovered new areas for research that may shed new light on solutions to the growing nursing shortage worldwide.

Dumitrescu and Campo, in collaboration with co-authors from University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in St. Augustine, Florida, first examined the relationship between self-efficacy and final course grades. “Overall, we found no causal link between academic performance and self-efficacy,” said Dumitrescu. “But we did find that we can improve student outcomes by applying active learning strategies, such as case-based learning.” In contrast to memorization, active learning engages students while developing critical thinking skills, she explained: “Based on educational research, when students learn using practical, health-related scenarios, they show significant improvements in critical thinking skills and self-efficacy. Students are less likely to become discouraged, change majors or discontinue their studies.”

According to the authors, the use of active learning strategies in first-year nursing classrooms can address a major issue facing the health care system. “It’s generally known that, with so many nurses nearing retirement age, we can expect a significant nursing shortage within the next decade,” said Dumitrescu. “By applying our findings to nursing program retention practices, we may be able to positively affect this outcome.”

The research is unique when compared to similar studies, as explained by Dumitrescu: “Our research looks at nursing students at an earlier point in their education. Studying these qualities in third- or fourth-year students is too late. Either they have gained the confidence they need or have dropped out. The earlier the problem is detected, the sooner a retention solution can be implemented.”

The research is also important when considering larger health care workforce demands. “Our study focused on students enrolled in Mercy’s nursing program, but we discovered principles that can apply to other pre-health professions as well and enhance student success by strengthening the pathway from student to practitioner,” said Dumitrescu.