The level of smoking by undergraduate female nursing students is higher than that of the general population, a new study has found.
Twenty four per cent of them smoked compared with 18 per cent recorded in government figures for Australian females as a whole. (Among male nursing students the figure was 18.9 per cent compared with 21.1 per cent in the rest of the population.)
Yet most nursing students agreed that health professionals should promote a healthy lifestyle and that there should be more health promotion in relation to the dangers of smoking.
However, nursing students who smoked had less favourable attitudes towards this than those who had never smoked or had stopped smoking.
The findings - revealing an important distinction between professional and personal beliefs about smoking - are contained in an international study led by Ms Eileen Clark, a lecturer in School of Nursing and Midwifery at Australia's La Trobe University's Albury-Wodonga Campus.
The study involved a sample of 366 second-year and third-year nursing students on Victorian university campuses. Most were female (84%), and three quarters were aged 30 or under. Results of the study have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
More men (54.7%) than women (52.5%) had never smoked but of those who had, more women (25.2%) than men (18.9%) continued to smoke.
The research is part of a wider study of undergraduate nursing, medical, dentistry, and pharmacy students being conducted in Victoria, Australia; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Kansas, USA; and Glasgow, Scotland.
Ms Clark said most of the smokers or former smokers had started smoking during adolescence, before beginning their nursing studies. It was unclear why undergraduate nursing attracted a high proportion of female smokers.
Further research was needed into this, she said, given that smoking behaviour affects the way undergraduate nursing students perceive their future role in promoting health and caring for patients with smoking related illnesses.
'Students' beliefs supported their professional role about smoking and health promotion, but their beliefs about the rights of non-smokers and smokers could be interpreted as a personal values perspective about smoking - and students had mixed opinions about these rights.'
In addition, Ms Clark said there was no relationship between students' knowledge of smoking, and their attitudes towards it. She said students showed good general knowledge about smoking, but were less certain when asked about specific effects of smoking.
For example, while 94.8% of students believed that smoking contributed to bronchitis, only 37.2% recognised that smoking was associated with osteoporosis.
Ms Clark said the findings have implications for both high school education and undergraduate nursing education, and for recruitment of students to undergraduate nursing programs.
Because most smokers started smoking in high school, school health programs should examine ways of dissuading students who might be contemplating, or have recently commenced, smoking.
Undergraduate nursing programs needed more emphasis on smoking and smoking related illnesses, and nurses' roles in smoking health promotion, given the number of nursing students who smoke.
The study is titled: Cognitive dissonance and undergraduate nursing students' knowledge of, and attitudes about, smoking.
Co-researchers are Dr Terence McCann, former Head of Nursing at La Trobe University's Albury-Wodonga Campus (now at Victoria University); and Dr Kathy Rowe and Dr Anne Lazenbatt from Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
For further information please contact Eileen Clark, Tel: 02 6058 3706 or Email: [email protected], http://www.latrobe.edu.au