A Discussion of Professional Identity Development in Nursing Students


  • Cathy Maginnis Charles Sturt University




Professional identity, nursing students, Bachelor of Nursing, education, nursing identity


Becoming a nurse requires development of professional capabilities, specifically socialisation into the profession and developing a professional identity (PI). A search of the literature highlights a lack of empirical research in PI development during pre-registration nursing education. A range of factors will be explored that relate to PI, including identity, professional socialisation, a sense of belonging to the profession and clinical placement. Exploring the development of a PI in nursing students can assist with identifying drivers and inhibitors. The aim of this paper is to describe PI development in pre-registration nursing students’ education and the relationship between development of a PI and the tertiary provided education. There are a multitude of factors that impact on developing a PI such as identity, professional socialisation, belonging, clinical placements and educators. Nursing students predominantly develop a nursing PI in the pre-registration program with professional socialisation through exposure to academia, clinical practice and role models. The onus of responsibility for developing a PI in nursing students is attributed to educational institutions.

An expected outcome of the pre-registration program is that nursing students will have formed a PI. A greater depth of understanding PI is important in supporting the education of the nurses of the future. There may not be one simple explanation for what PI is, or how it is developed, but a greater depth of understanding of PI by both the tertiary sector and the nursing profession is important in supporting the education of the nurses of the future. Further research will enable a dialogue describing the development of a PI in nursing students and an understanding of the attributes and conceptions attributed to a nursing PI.

Author Biography

Cathy Maginnis, Charles Sturt University

Cathy Maginnis is a Lecturer at Charles Sturt University for the past 20 years. She has a passion for nursing and midwifery and providing education for rural students. She has an interest in how nursing students develop a professional identity.


Apesoa- Varano, E. (2007). Educated caring: The emergence of professional identity among nurses. Qualitative Sociology, 30(3), 249-274. doi: 10.1007/s11133-007-9069-6

Arreciado Marañón, A., & Isla Pera, M. P. (2015). Theory and practice in the construction of professional identity in nursing students: A qualitative study. Nurse Education Today, 35(7), 859-863. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2015.03.014

Baldwin, A., Mills, J., Birks, M., & Budden, L. (2014). Role modeling in undergraduate nursing education: An integrative literature review. Nurse Education Today, 34(6), e18-e26. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2013.12.007

Birks, M., Chapman, Y., & Francis, K. (2010). Becoming professional by degrees - A grounded theory study of nurses in Malaysian Borneo. Singapore Nursing Journal, 37(3), 31.

Brennan, D., & Timmins, F. (2012). Changing institutional identities of the student nurse. Nurse Education Today, 32(7), 747-751. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2012.05.021

Brown, J., Stevens, J., & Kermode, S. (2012). Supporting student nurse professionalisation: The role of the clinical teacher. Nurse Education Today, 32(5), 606-610. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2011.08.007

Cooper, J., Courtney-Pratt, H., & Fitzgerald, M. (2015). Key influences identified by first year undergraduate nursing students as impacting on the quality of clinical placement: A qualitative study. Nurse Education Today, 35, 1004-1008. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2015.03.009

Cowin, L. S., & Johnson, M. (2015). From student to graduate: longitudinal changes in the qualities of nurses. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 71(12) n/a. doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1111/jan.12763

Del Prato, D. (2012). Students' voices: The lived experience of faculty incivility as a barrier to professional formation in associate degree nursing education. Nurse Education Today. 33(3), 286-290. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2012.05.030

Dinmohammadi, M., Peyrovi, H., & Mehrdad, N. (2013). Concept analysis of professional socialization in nursing. Nursing Forum, 48(1), 26-34. doi: 10.1111/nuf.12006

Felstead, I. (2013). Role modelling and students' professional development. British Journal of Nursing, 22(4), 223-227

Ford, K., Courtney-Pratt, h., Marlow, A., Cooper, J., Williams, D., & Mason, R. (2016). Quality clinical placements: The perspectives of undergraduate nursing students and their supervising nurses. Nurse Education Today, 37, 97-102. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2015.11.013

Grace, S., & Trede, F. (2013). Developing professionalism in physiotherapy and dietetics students in professional entry courses. Studies in Higher Education, 38(6). 793-806. doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1080/03075079.2011.603410

Happell, B. (2014). Let the buyer beware! Loss of professional identity in mental health nursing. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 23(2), 99-100. doi: 10.1111/inm.12066

Hensel, D., & Laux, M. (2014). Longitudinal study of stress, self-care, and professional identity among nursing students. Nurse Educator. 39(5) 227-231doi: 10.1097/NNE.0000000000000057

Hensel, D., Middleton, M. J., & Engs, R. C. (2013). A cross-sectional study of drinking patterns, prelicensure nursing education, and professional identity formation. Nurse Education Today, 34(5) 719-723. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2013.08.018

Johnson, M., Cowin, L. S., Wilson, I., & Young, H. (2012). Professional identity and nursing: contemporary theoretical developments and future research challenges. International Nursing Review, 59(4), 562-569. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-7657.2012.01013.x

Jones, A. (2010). Attachment, belonging and identity are important to effective health curricula. Nurse Education Today, 30(4), 277-278. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2009.10.008

Levett-Jones, T., Lathlean, J., Higgins, I., & McMillan, M. (2009). Development and psychometric testing of the belongingness scale- clinical placement experience- an international comparative study. Collegian, 16, 153-162. doi: 10.1016/j.colegn.2009.04.004

Madsen, W., McAllister, M., Godden, J., Greenhill, J., & Reed, R. (2009). Nursing’s orphans: How the system of nursing education in Australia is undermining professional identity. Contemporary Nurse, 32(1-2), 9-18

Maslow, A. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper and Row.

Milton-Wildey, K., Kenny, P., Parmenter, G., & Hall, J. (2014). Educational preparation for clinical nursing: The satisfaction of students and new graduates from two Australian universities. Nurse Education Today, 34(4), 648-654.

Moreland, J. J., Ewoldsen, D. R., Albert, N. M., Kosicki, G. M., & Clayton, M. F. (2015). Predicting nurses' turnover: The aversive effects of decreased identity, poor interpersonal communication, and learned helplessness. Journal of Health Communication, 20(10), 1155-1165. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2015.1018589

Reid, A., Dahlgren, L. O., Petocz, P., & Dahlgren, M. A. (2008). Identity and engagement for professional formation. Studies in Higher Education, 33(6), 729-742.

Sabanciogullari, S., & Dogan, S. (2015). Effects of the professional identity development programme on the professional identity, job satisfaction and burnout levels of nurses: A pilot study. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 21, 847-857.

Shahidi, L. H., Vahidi, Maryam., Mahram, Behrooz., Areshtanab, Hossein Namdar., Zarghi, Nazila. (2014). Professional identity development in nursing students: Eisner's evaluation model. Research and Development in Medical Education, 3(1), 37-43.

Tajfel, H. (1979). Individuals and groups in social psychology. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18, 183-190.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. Austin & S. Worschel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole.

Trede, F., Macklin, R., & Bridges, D. (2011). Professional identity development: a review of the higher education literature. Studies in Higher Education, 37(3). 365-384 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2010.521237

Turner, J., & Oakes, P. (1989). Self-categorization theory and social influence. In P. Paulus (Ed.), Psychology of group influence. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Ehrlbaum.

Walker, S., Dwyer, T., Broadbent, M., Moxham, L., Sander, T., & Edwards, K. (2014). Constructing a nursing identity within the clinical environment: The student nurse experience. Contemporary Nurse, 49(1), 103-112. doi: 10.1080/10376178.2014.11081960

Walker, S., Rossi, D., Anastasi, J., Gray-Ganter, G., & Tennent, R. (2016). Indicators of undergraduate nursing students' satisfaction with their learning journey: An integrative review. Nurse Education Today, 43, 40-48. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2016.04.011

Willetts, G., & Clarke, D. (2014). Constructing nurses' professional identity through social identity theory. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 20(2), 164-169. doi: 10.1111/ijn.12108

Worthington, M., Salamonson, Y., Weaver, R., & Cleary, M. (2013). Predictive validity of the Macleod Clark Professional Identity Scale for undergraduate nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 33(3), 187-191. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2012.01.012

Zarshenas, L., Sharif, F., Molazem, Z., Khayyer, M., Zare, N., & Ebadi, A. (2014). Professional socialization in nursing: A qualitative content analysis. Iranian Journal of Nursing & Midwifery Research, 19(4), 432-438.