Prof Jennifer Chipps (UWC), Prof Felicity Daniels (UWC) and Dr. Christoph Pimmer (University of Applied Sciences and Arts Nothwestern Switzerland) presenting the results of a WhatsApp support group study at the International Assocation for Medical Education in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG – What happens when you take a bunch of newly-graduated student nurses and get them together in a WhatsApp support group? Well, according to research by Professors Felicity Daniels and Jennifer Chipps, they become better and more confident nurses for it.

“Becoming a practicing nurse isn’t easy – despite the training and assessment student nurses undergo, transitioning into practice can be exciting, but also challenging and traumatic,” says Professor Felicity Daniels from the University of the Western Cape’s School of Nursing. 

“A period of additional support is essential to help these nurses settle into their new roles and responsibilities – and one effective way of finding that support is through a tool students use practically every day: WhatsApp.” 

She conducted an exploratory study focusing on the experiences of new nurses about a WhatsApp support group.

A total of 63 newly-graduated nurses in community service were purposively selected, divided into rural and urban groups, and participated in a three-month support group based on identified needs. 

“The study indicates positive effects of using moderated WhatsApp groups and points to some challenges,” Prof Daniels says. “Participating in the group was a positive experience for many nurses, especially for the ones who worked in remote and rural areas.” 

New nurses may face a range of challenges

“Nurses face challenges with theory and practice where the clinical placements might have fewer or different resources to what nurses are used to. There are also stresses involved with new levels of responsibility – being the only RN in charge of award or clinic as a community service nurse, for example, especially when dealing with anxious or angry patients.”

The moderated WhatsApp groups were found to be a convenient tool for empowering newly graduated nurses, providing them with a platform for moderator-centred and peer-to-peer-based learning and knowledge sharing and for motivational and emotional support.  

“Participants developed resilience and confidence by being connected with colleagues from school, and acknowledged that content of discussion was relevant to their personal and professional development,” notes Prof Daniels. “They recommend that this group should be continuously used in supporting new nurses.”

Of course, no intervention is without challenges - and chief among those were the high number of daily messages and the relatively high costs of data bundles. 

“These issues could perhaps be addressed by using smaller WhatsApp groups, and by enabling Wi-Fi in workplaces,” Prof Daniels suggests. “These challenges are unevenly distributed, though: rural participants need more support than their urban counterparts - and that’s something we need to keep in mind.”

Tech for the Nursing Transition: WhatsApp in the Workplace

The experience gained from this first intervention has informed the development of a new, WhatsApp-based transition curriculum to empower new nursing graduates.  This online transitioning programme is currently being piloted, and will be researched in the form of a larger-scale intervention at the beginning of 2019. 

“The overall goal is to create an evidence-informed professional Community of Practice to better support nurses in the study-to-work transition using mobile social media, especially in rural and marginalised areas of South Africa,” says fellow researcher Prof Chipps. 

“This can then be used to improve nurses’ study-to-work transitions during their community service programme on a national scale - providing a stronger community health force for the country.”  

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