Background: Mental health nurses working in the mental healthcare service are the largest work group. Globally a shortage of 128, 000 psychiatric nurses exist in low and middle-income countries.
Objectives: (1) To determine the perceptions of 4th year undergraduate nursing students toward mental health nursing and (2) the contributing factors to their perception in an urban school of nursing in Jamaica.
Method: A quantitative cross-sectional study with a census sampling of the 4th year cohort of undergraduate nursing students (N=70) was done. Data were collected using the Nurses Perception of Psychiatric Nursing Questionnaire. Data were analysed using SPSS version 18.
Results: The majority (97.1%) of the participants had a positive perception toward psychiatric nursing but only 22.9% were interested in pursuing psychiatric nursing. Amongst the participants, psychiatric nursing was perceived the least valued of nine nursing subspecialties. Contributing factors to nursing students’ perception included prior care for an individual who suffered with a psychiatric illness and consideration to choose psychiatric nursing as a specialty.
Conclusion: Though the perception of mental health nursing was high, the interest in pursuing this specialty was low. There was leaning towards the choosing of specialties that were perceived as highly skilled or highly valued. The interest and action of choosing psychiatric nursing would assist in the recruitment and retention of nurses into this workforce. Therefore, innovative and creative strategies such as the increased use of simulation are perhaps needed to make mental health nursing more attractive to nursing students.