For People Like Us? An Exploration Of The Career Aspirations Of Australian School Students Interested In Medicine And Nursing

Year: 2015

Author: Gore, Jenny, Holmes, Kathyrn, Smith, Max, Patfield, Sally

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the context of an Australian higher education agenda focusing on student equity and widening participation, there exists persistent demographic patterns in the composition of the higher education study body as a whole, and these are even more marked when contrasting specific degrees. Within the discipline of health, research has highlighted that many individuals associate their career choice with altruistic reasons (for example, McHarg, Mattick, & Knight, 2007; Mooney, Glacken, & O’Brien, 2008), however in making comparisons between two specific degrees, medicine and nursing, the demographic profile of students enrolled in these degrees is remarkably different. In particular, medicine is frequently associated with an elite image and is characterised by an under-representation of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds (Griffin & Hu, 2015; Southgate, Kelly, & Symonds, 2015), whilst the field of nursing is dominated by gender stereotyping and is often perceived as being for individuals of lower academic ability (Mooney, Glacken, & O’Brien, 2008; Neilson & Lauder, 2008). Drawing on data from a large-scale mixed method longitudinal study of more than 6000 students in Years 3 – 12 from New South Wales public schools, we investigate the kinds of students who aspire to study medicine and nursing, and the reasons students’ state for their interest in these professions. Explored through the lens of Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, the variables of gender, socio-economic status, location and prior achievement (based on results from the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) will be applied in relation to how students think about their futures and what might be considered acceptable “for people like us” (Bourdieu, 1990, pp. 64–65). Comparisons will be made between the students interested in each career as well as their stated occupational justification. The findings provide robust evidence to underpin widening participation strategies in a landscape of changing healthcare systems and an ageing population.