Evidence-based practice: What do undergraduate health students think it means?


  • Kylie Ann Murphy School of Community Health Charles Sturt University
  • Yann Guisard
  • Michael Curtin
  • Jessica Biles
  • Catherine Thomas
  • Tracey Parnell




evidence-based practice, allied health occupations, attitude of health personnel, students, health occupations, learning


Introduction: Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a client-centred, collaborative process of enquiry, evidence gathering and critical reasoning to facilitate defensible healthcare decisions. Developing EBP competence in health students starts with ensuring that they understand what EBP means. This study explored the meanings undergraduate health students ascribe to EBP and investigated whether their understandings differ based on year level or discipline. 

Methods: An online survey of undergraduate students in 20 health degree courses included the open-ended question “What does EBP mean to you?” Druckman’s (2005) method of content analysis, using both etic and emic categories, was used to analyse the students’ responses. 

Results: Only 377 (two thirds) of the 584 students who submitted the survey provided an answer to the question; approximately half of those in their first year and three quarters of those in their final year answered the question. Most responses demonstrated a very limited understanding of the meaning of EBP. Differences in EBP conceptualisations based on year level and discipline were negligible. 

Conclusions: Across the sample subgroups, the majority of students in this study demonstrated a narrow understanding of EBP, largely devoid of the processes or principles that EBP scholars espouse. For EBP to achieve its full potential, undergraduate health students may require frequent and explicit exposure to all five steps of the EBP process. If new graduates do not understand EBP to be a contextualised, collaborative process, there is a risk that the potential value of EBP will continue to be compromised.



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How to Cite

Murphy, K. A., Guisard, Y., Curtin, M., Biles, J., Thomas, C., & Parnell, T. (2019). Evidence-based practice: What do undergraduate health students think it means?. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 20(3), 12–29. https://doi.org/10.11157/fohpe.v20i3.319