Final-year undergraduate nursing students’ perceptions of general practice as a career path

Health systems that have strong primary healthcare (PHC) have lower rates of hospitalisations and overall better health outcomes. This realisation has increased demands on building a PHC workforce to meet the changing needs of the community (Australian Government Department of Health 2013).

General practice remains at the ‘heart’ of PHC (Calma, Halcomb & Stephens 2019; Royal Australian College of General Practitioners 2018) however, it is a relatively underdeveloped career pathway in Australian nursing.

Additionally, pre-registration nursing education remains largely focussed on acute care (Parker, Keleher & Forrest 2011).

Universities continue to face challenges in delivering PHC content within undergraduate nursing programs due to the limited availability of PHC trained academics, lack of PHC clinical placements and students’ expectations to learn about acute care nursing (Calma, Halcomb & Stephens 2019).

As such, some nursing students have negative perceptions of PHC as a career path, considering working there would limit their future career options (van Iersel et al. 2018; Wojnar & Whelan 2017).

In our review paper, we found that the existing literature is focussed towards the PHC sector as a whole rather than specifically exploring nursing students’ preparedness and perceptions of working in general practice (Calma, Halcomb & Stephens 2019). Yet working in Australian general practice is known to be a somewhat unique environment given the small business nature and funding models (Halcomb & Bird 2020).

This gap in knowledge motivated Miss Kaara Calma to undertake a PhD project (in the School of Nursing at the University of Wollongong), supervised by Professor Liz Halcomb, Dr Anna Williams and Dr Susan McInnes.

This Doctoral Project uses a mixed-methods approach to address the complex research aims. Survey data has been collected from 388 final-year undergraduate nursing students from five universities in New South Wales. The data explored how prepared final-year undergraduate nursing students felt to work in general practice, and the factors that might impact on their preparedness to work in this setting. This was followed by interviews with a sub-group of 16 survey respondents to further explore their perceptions and preparedness for employment in general practice.

Findings will provide a new insight into undergraduate nurse education and its impact on graduate career choices around general practice. This data has the potential to inform strategies to enhance the preparation of nurses to seek employment in general practice following graduation. This is likely to enhance the uptake of general practice by new graduates which will address workforce shortages and provide career choices for beginning nurses.


Australian Government Department of Health. 2013. National primary health care strategic framework. Retrieved from Canberra, ACT:$File/NPHCframe.pdf

Calma, K., Halcomb, E.,J., & Stephens, M. 2019. The impact of curriculum on nursing students’ attitudes, perceptions and preparedness to work in primary health care: An integrative review. Nurse Education in Practice, 39, 1-10. doi:

Halcomb, E., & Bird, S. 2020. Job satisfaction and career intention of Australian general practice nurses: A cross-sectional survey. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 52(3), 270-280. doi:10.1111/jnu.12548

Parker, R., Keleher, H., & Forrest, L. 2011. The work, education and career pathways of nurses in Australian general practice. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 17(3), 227-232. doi:10.1071/PY10074

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. 2018. What is general practice? Retrieved from

van Iersel, M., Latour, C.H.M., de Vos, R., Kirschner, P.A., & Scholte op Reimer, W.J.M. 2018. Perceptions of community care and placement preferences in first-year nursing students: A multicentre, cross-sectional study. Nurse Education Today, 60, 92-97. doi:

Wojnar, D. M., & Whelan, E. M. 2017. Preparing nursing students for enhanced roles in primary care: The current state of prelicensure and RN-to-BSN education. Nursing Outlook, 65(2), 222-232. doi:10.1016/j.outlook.2016.10.006


Kaara Calma, RN BN (Hons) is a PhD Candidate / Lecturer, at the University of Wollongong, NSW
Professor Elizabeth Halcomb is Professor of Primary Health Care Nursing at the University of Wollongong
Dr Anna Williams is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia
Dr Sue McInnes is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wollongong

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