Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Sandra Thomas

Committee Members

Mary Gunther, Reba Umberger, Katherine Greenberg


Most newly licensed registered nurses go to work in acute care hospitals, which means they enter an increasingly complex healthcare environment where they experience staffing shortages, high nurse-patient ratios, and workplace violence. The purpose of this study is to attempt to understand the experiences of newly licensed registered nurses who have endured the early years of bedside hospital nursing and continue to work in their first nursing job. The existential phenomenological philosophy of Merleau-Ponty serves as the guiding framework for this qualitative research study. Following IRB approval, criterion and snowball sampling were used to recruit newly licensed registered nurses who graduated between May 2012 and May 2013. An open-ended unstructured interview format was used to collect data from nine nurses willing to be interviewed about their clinical experiences. Participants ranged in age from 24 to 43 years, represented day and night shifts, and included acute and critical care settings from five different health systems across the state of Tennessee. Data were analyzed by the researcher and the Interpretive Research Group at the University of Tennessee using the Thomas-Pollio existential phenomenological approach. All transcripts were read and analyzed for meaning units and global themes which were used to develop a thematic structure. The researcher, research group, and willing study participants agreed upon the final thematic structure. Five figural themes emerged from the data: 1) I found the perfect fit; 2) We're a pretty cohesive group; 3) It's about caring for the patients; 4) I've learned a lot; and 5) Knowing I make a difference. Study rigor was maintained by bracketing, data saturation, interdisciplinary review, member checking, and the use of direct quotes to support findings. This research has implications for nursing education and clinical practice. Findings are applicable to student nurses, newly licensed registered nurses, nurse educators, clinical preceptors, nurse managers, and hospital administrators.

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