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The wicked problem of healthcare student attrition

Hamshire, Claire and Jack, kirsten and Forsyth, Rachel and Langan, Anthony and Harris, Wilson (2019) The wicked problem of healthcare student attrition. Nursing Inquiry. ISSN 1320-7881


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The early withdrawal of students from healthcare education programmes, particularly nursing, is an international concern and, despite considerable investment, retention rates have remained stagnant. Here, a regional study of healthcare student retention is used as an example to frame the challenge of student attrition using a concept from policy development, wicked problem theory. This approach allows the consideration of student attrition as a complex problem derived from the interactions of many interrelated factors, avoiding the pitfalls of small‐scale interventions and over‐simplistic assumptions of cause and effect. A conceptual framework is proposed to provide an approach to developing actions to reduce recurrent investment in interventions that have previously proved ineffective at large scale. We discuss how improvements could be achieved through integrated stakeholder involvement and acceptance of the wicked nature of attrition as a complex and ongoing problem.

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