A qualitative study exploring healthcare students’ understanding of their moral compass and its influence on practice.
Aims: To explore healthcare students’ understanding of their moral compass. Background: Francis (2010; 2013) highlighted failings within health and social care delivery, identifying themes of poor care, compassion, dignity and respect as issues. Stimulated by these reports a critical literature review revealed spirituality to be important in developing good healthcare practice. A proof of concept (pilot study) sought to understand healthcare students’ understanding of religion/spirituality. The moral compass emerged as an important theme that required deeper understanding. Methodology: I took a critical, social constructionist perspective incorporating a theological axiology, as I sought to understand healthcare students’ moral compass. The research was exploratory and descriptive using qualitative and inductive approaches. Methods: Sampling and recruitment was purposive (N=12), using students within a higher education institution in Lothian. Three data collection methods were used (interpretation of picture cards, identification on journey lines key points where healthcare students felt their moral compass was developed or challenged, and one-one, face-face semi-structured audio-taped interviews) and data was triangulated to increase rigour and trustworthiness within the study. Analysis: Data analysis used an iterative process of thematic analysis, with a critical exegetical/hermeneutical interpretation. I used the theological/anthropological lens of St Augustine’s Two Cities, ‘The City of God’ (spiritual) and the ‘City of Man’ (secular) as a reference to interpretation. Interpretation: Early religious education appeared to influence how an individual’s moral compass developed. Having a faith, seemed to guide an individual in the choices they made, developed self-esteem and the way they interacted with others. Elements such as forgiveness and trust were important in relationships. Feelings of guilt and shame were evident with wrong-doing but the level of wrong-doing appeared to be calibrated depending on the situation. Conclusion: It would appear that what a person does in this life can influence how they will enter the next-life. A great deal of information was generated concerning forgiveness, trust, guilt and shame which need to be addressed for proper moral development. Participants calibrated these factors depending on their situation and it is proposed that the moral compass can be fluid.