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Failing to Fail in Undergraduate Nursing

Understanding the Phenomenon

Docherty, Angie

doi: 10.1097/01.NEP.0000000000000350

AIM The aim of the study was to explore and understand the phenomenon of “failing to fail.”

BACKGROUND Phase 1 of a mixed-methods study suggested faculty in clinical settings instructed students that should not have passed preceding placements; students in didactic settings also passed exams that merited a fail. Phase 2 explored this phenomenon.

METHOD A multisite qualitative case study targeted baccalaureate and community college faculty to support analysis using replication logic. Data collection was conducted via semistructured interview.

RESULTS Eighteen demographically diverse cases were recruited (including age, experience, and full-/part-time status). Factors supporting failing to fail included being good enough, clinical/didactic dichotomy, team grading, and being the bad guy.

CONCLUSION The consistency of enabling factors suggests a collective approach is required to address failing to fail, including pedagogical preparation and cross-school mechanisms for ensuring grading parity. Effort must address integrity and teaching excellence in all aspects of nursing education.

About the Author Angie Docherty, NursD, MPH, RN, is an assistant professor Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing, Monmouth, Oregon. This research was funded by a Nursing Education Research Grant from the National League for Nursing. For more information, contact Dr. Docherty at

The author has declared no conflict of interest.

© 2018 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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