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Academic-community partnerships (ACPs) are a means by which community-based organizations can implement their missions and programs of higher education can facilitate student educational objectives through real world learning experiences. Many ACPs are framed in the educational methodology, service-learning. Theoretical definitions of ACPs (as a type of inter-organizational relationship) describe them as relationships that are on-going, reciprocal and characterized by mutual trust and respect.

During the past 15 years, ACPs and service-learning have experienced a rapid growth in nursing education. Literature pertaining to ACPs in nursing education is largely anecdotal and concerns undergraduate nursing programs. There are few reports of research pertaining to ACPs, particularly those involving graduate nursing programs or community partners' perspectives of their experiences in ACPs.

The purpose of this study was to explore community partners' perspectives of partnership with a graduate nursing program. The grounded theory approach to qualitative research was used to answer research questions concerning the process of, and factors influencing, the partnerships.

The setting for the study was 17 organizations that have partnered with a graduate program of nursing as part of a project called, Community Engagement Through Service-Learning. Thirteen key contact persons from each partnership were each interviewed once. Additional data collection methods included field notes, a group meeting and memberchecking. Thirteen participants representing 14 partnerships participated in the study. Data analysis began with the initial interview. Techniques included open coding, constant comparison, the Six C's family of codes and memoing. Phases of data analysis included: Level I (Level I, II and III coding), Phase II (delimiting the theory) and Phase III (writing the theory). Accepted strategies to promote rigor were also employed: two rounds of member checking, peer review and maintaining an audit trail.

Twelve participants reported positive outcomes and satisfaction with the relationship. Nine had engaged in partnerships with one faculty member for one semester. Four had partnered with one faculty member for two to four semesters. Products of data analysis included: a summary of each interview, 20 categories, six concepts, and two constructs along with their associated properties; the basic social process i.e., Connecting for Partnership and a substantive, descriptive theory

The partnerships in this sample were seen as being of two levels. Level I, Teaming, refers to the process, a sequence of five stages, which occurs over the course of one semester. Factors relevant to each stage were identified and include: commitment by all involved; a close, working relationship; consideration of each others culture; thorough, effective communication, and careful planning. Primary and secondary outcomes were identified for both participants and students. Level II, Sustaining, refers to on-going partnerships characterized by continuing commitment, shared goals, building on evaluation findings and mutual trust and respect.

The findings of this study supported the literature and identified several factors specific to partnerships with a graduate nursing program. Advantages and challenges unique to working with MSN students were discussed. Implications for direct relevance and transferability for professional nursing and other disciplines were described. Limitations related primarily to the use of grounded theory methods and directions for future quantitative and qualitative research were identified.


© 2003 Deborah Essex Forbes Lindell BSN, MSN, APRN,BC

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