A self-determination theory perspective on student success in attaining an emergency care degree

S Sobuwa, B Lord


Background. While student enrolment has increased in the South African (SA) higher education system, the undergraduate throughput rate has been abysmal. Consequently, the literature has largely focused on the negative discourse of understanding the hindrance of student success in higher education.

Objectives. To take a positive discourse viewpoint of understanding student success in the Bachelor of Emergency Medical Care (BEMC) degree in SA. The paper uses Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory to explore students’ motivation to succeed in attaining the BEMC degree in SA.

Methods. Participants were BEMC students recruited from 4 universities. Third- and fourth-year students who had not repeated a module/subject while studying for the BEMC degree were purposively sampled and invited to join the focus group discussions. These groups were conducted at the respective institutions during the participants’ free time. The audio recordings were transcribed to produce a written text of the focus group discussions. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data with the aid of NVivo 11 (Microsoft, USA).

Results. The thematic analysis yielded two themes, i.e. intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Some students were intrinsically motivated to complete the degree in the minimum time. It is more likely that students’ intrinsic motivation increased with continued success in the programme and that it also satisfied their feeling of competence. Some students succeeded owing to extrinsic motivational factors – to prove some people wrong or because of the financial implications of failure.

Conclusion. The emergency care departments need to assist students to maintain motivation, which may satisfy their feelings of autonomy and competence. Addressing students’ motivation may allow for more continued success in the academic programme.

Authors' affiliations

S Sobuwa, Department of Emergency Medical Care and Rescue, Faculty of Health Sciences, Durban University of Technology, South Africa

B Lord, Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

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Self-determination theory; Student success; Academic success; Intrinsic motivation; Extrinsic motivation

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2019;11(4):114-117. DOI:10.7196/AJHPE.2019.v11i4.006

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-12-12
Date published: 2019-12-12

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