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Theory-Practice Gap: The Experiences of Nigerian Nursing Students

Titilayo Dorothy Odetola, Olusola Oluwasola, Christoph Pimmer, Oluwafemi Dipeolu, Samson Oluwayemi Akande, Oladipupo Samuel Olaleye, Urs Gröhbiel, Ademola Johnson Ajuwon


The “disconnect” between the body of knowledge acquired in classroom settings and the application of this knowledge in clinical practice is one of the main reasons for professional fear, anxiety and feelings of incompetence among freshly graduated nurses. While the phenomenon of the theory-to-practice gap has been researched quite extensively in high-income country settings much less is known about nursing students’ experiences in a developing country context. To rectify this shortcoming, the qualitative study investigated the experiences of nursing students in their attempt to apply what they learn in classrooms in clinical learning contexts in seven sites in Nigeria. Thematic content analysis was used to analyse data gained from eight focus group discussions (n = 80) with the students. The findings reveal a multifaceted theory-practice gap which plays out along four tensions: (1) procedural, i.e. the difference between practices from education institutions and the ones enacted in clinical wards – and contradictions that emerge even within one clinical setting; (2) political, i.e. conflicts that arise between students and clinical staff, especially personnel with a lower qualification profile than the degree that students pursue; (3) material, i.e. the disconnect between contemporary instruments and equipment available in schools and the lack thereof in clinical settings; and (4) temporal, i.e. restricted opportunities for supervised practice owing to time constraints in clinical settings in which education tends to be undervalued. Many of these aspects are linked to and aggravated by infrastructural limitations, which are typical for the setting of a developing country. Nursing students need to be prepared regarding how to deal with the identified procedural, political, material and temporal tensions before and while being immersed in clinical practice, and, in so doing, they need to be supported by educationally better qualified clinical staff.


theory-practice gap; nursing students; training; Nigeria

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