Last year, it was found that enrollment in nursing programs rose by over 3%. This came at a welcome time, as it was unclear how COVID-19 would affect the future of nursing.
This post will discuss conducting online surveys with nurses by outlining a case study of a project completed by our healthcare market research company. The main focus is not simply on nursing as a career, but on factors surrounding nursing education.
Market research is an excellent way to provide your team with statistically reliable information for strategic purposes.
Creating an online survey and collecting feedback from hundreds of respondents in your target audience can lay the groundwork for data-driven decision-making.
If you are in higher education or healthcare organization, consider using market research to lend you the insights and objective feedback you need to make decisions.
Our case study below discusses:
- The challenge
- Our approach to conducting nursing market research
- Key themes/insights from the study
- Recommended outcomes suggested by our research team
A higher education institution partnered with Drive Research to create a nursing survey questionnaire. The college was looking to rebrand its nursing program and understand how to reshape it to best fit the market's needs.
The college wanted to understand awareness of its:
- Nursing programs and degrees in the market
- Interest in pursuing a nursing degree or career
- Preference for a class type
- Preference for the degree program
- Other factors to understand the appeal of program benefits and messaging at the college
Conducting nursing market research
When conducting market research with doctors or nurses, it is important to include screening or qualification survey questions at the beginning to ensure the research only obtains feedback from a target audience.
Screening criteria for the nursing online survey project included:
- Respondents needed to currently be a nurse, want to become a nurse, work with nurses, or hire or manage nurses
- Respondents live in 1 of 10 Upstate New York counties surrounding Syracuse and Utica, including Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, or Otsego.
The online survey was blinded and was not branded, to ensure anonymity across all channels.
A total of 225 respondents qualified to participate in this survey. The sample was a blend of current nurses, interested nurses, those who work with nurses, and those who hire and manage nurses.
Honing in on this audience was crucial to understanding the key metrics and KPIs for the client.
Example Nursing Survey Questions
The nursing survey questionnaire lasted an average of 3 to 5 minutes and included 15 questions.
In general, shorter surveys create higher quality feedback and better engagement among respondents. Although there are differing opinions on the optimal length of the survey, we consider a best practice length to be 5 to 7 minutes or less.
Even with a shorter survey, many objectives can be addressed.
For instance, example student nursing survey questions include:
- Are you aware of ABC nursing program?
- What is your perception of ABC nursing program?
- What type of degree do you prefer?
- What factors do you look for in a nursing school?
- What is the likelihood of considering ABC nursing school?
This is why it’s critical to work with a third-party healthcare market research company. The team can assist you with focusing your questions on core objectives without making the survey experience laborious.
The consultation would include ways to combine questions, the flow of questions, and how all of your needs can be addressed efficiently.
What Was the Awareness of the Nursing Program in the Market?
Awareness is a common key performance indicator (KPI) for higher education institutions. In the higher education choice model, decisions start with awareness and shift to interest, consideration, and choice.
For top-of-mind awareness (i.e., schools named first when asked about nursing schools in the area), the college ranked as the 7th most common school named first.
Awareness of schools was significantly impacted by the geographies respondents resided in. The college also ranked 7th in aggregate unaided awareness (multiple schools listed top-of-mind).
Overall, 6 in 10 respondents were aware of the college as a nursing school.
There was little difference between the Syracuse market area (57% aware) and the Utica market (63% aware). The college ranked 3rd in total awareness among interested nursing students (the most relevant audience for enrollment).
Therefore, awareness of the college as a nursing school is lower among the current working nurse population.
Awareness of degrees offered by the college was lower, with nearly half noting they were unsure what was offered (2 years, 4 years, graduate, etc.).
Awareness of associate’s degrees was more than double the awareness of bachelor’s degrees, meaning the college had a stronger reputation for 2-year degrees over 4-year degrees in the targeted nursing market.
What Is the Perception Of the Nursing Program?
The college scored in the middle of the pack for perception, ranking 4th of 7 competitive nursing schools tested. Additionally, it earned a perception score of +47 (51% positive, 45% neutral, 4% negative).
Word-of-mouth communication with friends or family members, and coworkers played a strong role in how respondents collected information about nursing schools.
Respondents in the western regions (Syracuse market area) were more significantly influenced by employers, while those in the eastern counties (Utica market area) were more strongly influenced by Google searches.
It is clear that the healthcare system and hospitals in the Syracuse area had a significant impact on developing perceptions of schools in the region.
While word-of-mouth was still the top information source among those interested in nursing, nearly two-thirds were likely to use Google searches.
Without a network of friends or colleagues to rely on, this interested nursing audience appears to use online sources to find information and formulate opinions about schools.
What Degrees Do Nursing Students Prefer?
Based on what our survey questions for nurses found, the majority favored the option to earn an associate's degree in 2 years, earn an RN license, and then continue to work towards their bachelor’s degree.
It was preferred over earning a bachelor’s degree in 4 years and then earning an RN license.
The preference for a shorter path to an RN license through a 2-year associate’s degree was 2:1.
This shorter degree path allows students to earn their license to begin working as a nurse while pursuing their Bachelor’s degree. Many prefer to put their education and the 2-year degree to use immediately.
Therefore, the nurse can work full-time or part-time while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree (if they are interested).
The 4-year degree was not considered a high priority by many before earning an RN license.
This is unlikely to change with any new legislation. Although it may be required, it appears nursing students will still opt for the RN license after 2 years before returning to pursue a 4-year degree within the next 10 years.
What Factors Are Most Important to Students?
Among all respondents of the nursing survey questionnaire, the reputation of the program, hands-on clinical experience, and the cost of the program are the 3 most important factors in students choosing a nursing school.
These are of Tier 1 importance.
Second-tier factors included:
- High NCLEX nursing exam passing rates
- Affiliations with healthcare organizations or hospitals
Tier 3 importance included:
- Speed to obtain the degree
- Distance to travel
- Variety of class offerings
Distance was also a major driver of the likelihood of considering schools. It’s important to note that responses differed slightly among those interested in nursing (potential students).
The top 4 factors among this audience were the:
- Cost of the program
- Hands-on clinical experience
- High NCLEX nursing exam passing rates
- Reputation of the program
The program's cost was the number one concern for those interested in pursuing it.
Our research unveiled that reputation and perception are highly driven by word-of-mouth based on a prior theme. In addition, the preference for hands-on clinical experience plays a significant role in the choice of school.
It is supported by the theme of respondents preferring the degree path, which offers the shortest route to employment (a 2-year degree to earn an RN license).
Students want to learn on-the-job experience at school, which they can apply immediately.
What Type of Class Setting is Most Preferred?
Our higher education market research company found there is a clear and strong preference for in-classroom formats for nursing programs.
While hybrid learning efforts will likely continue for nursing students, it’s essential certain themes covered are in-person.
Both total respondents and prospective students preferred half of the course structure (or more) to be in the classroom.
This in-classroom preference was even stronger among interested nursing students, in which 6 in 10 preferred at least 75% of the class time to be in-person.
This theme correlates with other findings from the market research.
In-classroom learning ties to the importance of hands-on clinical experience when selecting a nursing school. This experience is critical, as it better prepares nursing students to learn as much as possible so that after 2 years, they can earn a license and begin working.
Not surprisingly, this type of hands-on clinical experience is difficult to replicate through online formats.
What Is the Likelihood of Considering the College and Drivers to Choice?
Respondents aware of the college were asked about their/their nurses' likelihood to consider the college for a degree.
On a scale of 1 to 5, with “5” being very likely to be considered, the college earned a mean score of 2.7. Those interested in nursing were more likely to consider the college, earning an average score of 2.9 out of 5.
Geography did not affect the likelihood of considering the college.
Those in the Syracuse market (2.8) were slightly more likely to consider the college than the Utica market (2.6). Additionally, 10 respondents requested more information about the college’s nursing programs as a value-added to the market research.
The list was sent to the college for the next steps.
The critical driver which emerged as to why respondents or their nurses would choose the college revolved around the school’s distance from home or work. This was consistent across both the Syracuse and Utica market areas.
Very few respondents mentioned specific reasons around degrees, programs, or reputation (good or bad). However, those in the Utica market were much more likely to have completed their degree or already enrolled in a nursing program compared to those in the Syracuse market.
The distance to the college makes sense among the respondent base because of the strong importance and preference for in-classroom experiences and hands-on clinical experience. If the hands-on clinical experience were not as important, the distance to traveling to school would not be such a polarizing driver.
Creating Nursing Student Personas
We put together a persona based on the results of our healthcare survey for nurses. This is to better understand the common traits and characteristics of the standard student at this college.
“Sarah” is a hypothetical 25-year-old resident of Onondaga County.
- After high school and spending the majority of her working career in the front office for a physician, she decided that she’d like to pursue a career as a nurse. Her husband and 3-year-old support her in this decision.
- Still, she realizes the additional school work on top of her continuing to work in a part-time capacity will make this transition very difficult.
- Her boss has been more than accommodating.
- She reaches out to a couple of her friends from high school who work as nurses in the Syracuse hospitals to learn about the next steps she should take. She also scans school websites quite a bit online through Google searches.
- Sarah is concerned about cost, but she also wants to pick a school that has a good reputation, offers hands-on clinical experience, and has a history of high NCLEX pass rates. She wants to put her degree to use right away and plans on obtaining her RN license after earning her associate’s degree.
- Because hands-on experience is important, and she’ll be working part-time while pursuing a nursing degree, distance to travel plays a role.
- She prefers some flexibility in online classes, but she understands that to learn the clinical aspects, she wants to choose a program that offers hands-on experiences and in-classroom settings.
- Sarah is aware of the college but is relatively neutral about her perception of it–she didn’t think of it as a top-of-mind choice.
- She will look deeper on the website but the distance to travel to the school is a concern. However, if the school can offer significant cost advantages, the best clinical experience, and ensure she is prepared for the NCLEX exam, she would be more likely to consider it.
- Sarah plans on checking with her friends in Syracuse on its reputation.
Taking Action with Nursing Survey Results
1. Improve awareness with communications and marketing
With awareness of the college as a nursing school falling 5th among the 7 schools tested, and perception also ranking 4th among the 7 schools tested, opportunities exist to improve awareness and reputation.
Based on the market research, no strong associations with the college exist (positive or negative) in the markets, which provides a lot of opportunities for the college to formulate these impressions through communications and marketing.
These competitive differentiators should be uncovered with a survey dedicated to current and former nursing students.
2. Utilize strong credibility
Among the nursing population in the targeted geographies for the college, the school has a strong reputation for being a 2 year or associate’s degree school.
To counter this awareness, work needs to be done with messaging to help the nursing pool understand the college as a 4-year option, particularly with the new legislation.
3. Network with local hospitals
The college should strengthen its communication and employer relations with hospitals and healthcare systems in the Syracuse region.
This is driven by the data revealing employers in the western geographies were significantly more likely to be mentioned as an information source for respondents.
The benefits of these communication strategies would be 2-fold (stronger affiliations and a potentially positive impact on impressions of the college among key audiences).
4. Offer more hands-on coursework
Although a hybrid course structure is preferred, respondents want most of their time (75% or more) spent in the classroom.
The college should continue to ensure its hands-on clinical work is front-filled into the first 2 years of the program (which is preferred and a significant driver to obtaining a 2-year degree and then immediately earning an RN license).
Although some flexibility in class format is desired, the college should build its class structure with a significant focus on in-person learning.
The fact that the college builds its hands-on classes into the first 2 years, with the final 2 years being geared more toward nursing management, is a strong option and one the market wants.
5. Distance to travel to the college is the largest barrier in choosing
Because students expect and want to be in-person for learning, this could be a concern when attempting to attract students from distances. This is particularly difficult in the Central New York area, with so many nursing school options nearby.
The college should strengthen its relationship with 2-year community college programs and further differentiate itself from other competitive institutions.
Based in New York, Drive Research is a full-service market research company specializing in qualitative and quantitative research.
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George is the Owner & President of Drive Research. He has consulted for hundreds of regional, national, and global organizations over the past 15 years. He is a CX certified VoC professional with a focus on innovation and new product management.
Learn more about George, here.