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Original Research

Deepening the quality of clinical reasoning and decision-making in rural hospital nursing practice

Submitted: 8 October 2013
Revised: 5 March 2014
Accepted: 28 March 2014
Published: 11 September 2014

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Author(s) : Sedgwick MG, Grigg L, Dersch S.

Monique SedgwickLance GriggSharon Dersch

Citation: Sedgwick MG, Grigg L, Dersch S.  Deepening the quality of clinical reasoning and decision-making in rural hospital nursing practice. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2014; 14: 2858. Available: (Accessed 20 October 2017)


Introduction:††Rural acute care nursing requires an extensive breadth and depth of knowledge as well as the ability to quickly reason through problems in order to make sound clinical decisions. This reasoning often occurs within an environment that has minimal medical or ancillary support. Registered nurses (RN) new to rural nursing, and employers, have raised concerns about patient safety while new nurses make the transition into rural practice. In addition, feeling unprepared for the rigors of rural hospital nursing practice is a central issue influencing RN recruitment and retention. Understanding how rural RNs reason is a key element for identifying professional development needs and may support recruitment and retention of skilled rural nurses. The purpose of this study was to explore how rural RNs reason through clinical problems as well as to assess the quality of such reasoning.
Methods:††This study used a non-traditional approach for data collection. Fifteen rural acute care nurses with varying years of experience working in southern Alberta, Canada, were observed while they provided care to patients of varying acuity within a simulated rural setting. Following the simulation, semi-structured interviews were conducted using a substantive approach to critical thinking.
Results:††Findings revealed that the ability to engage in deep clinical reasoning varied considerably among participants despite being given the same information under the same circumstances. Furthermore, the number of years of experience did not seem to be directly linked to the ability to engage in sound clinical reasoning. Novice nurses, however, did rely heavily on others in their decision making in order to ensure they were making the right decision. Hence, their relationships with other staff members influenced their ability to engage in clinical reasoning and decision making. In situations where the patientís condition was deteriorating quickly, regardless of years of experience, all of the participants depended on their colleagues when making decisions and reasoning throughout the simulation.
Conclusions:††Deep clinical reasoning and decision making is a function of reflection and self-correction that requires a critical self-awareness and is more about how nurses think than what they think. The degree of sophistication in reasoning of experts and novices is at times equivalent in that the reasoning of experts and novices can be somewhat limited and focused primarily on human physicality and less on conceptual knowledge. To become proficient in clinical reasoning, practice is necessary. The study supports the accumulating evidence that using clinical simulation and reflective interviewing that emphasize how clinical decisions are made enhances reasoning skills and confidence.

Key words: clinical reasoning, decision making, nursing practice, rural nursing practice, simulation.

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