HYBRID EVENT: You can participate in person at Boston, Massachusetts, USA or Virtually from your home or work.

7th Edition of Nursing World Conference

October 16-18, 2023 | Boston, Massachusetts, USA

October 16 -18, 2023 | Boston, Massachusetts, USA
NWC 2023

Marcena L Gabrielson

Speaker at  Nursing World Conference 2023 - Marcena L Gabrielson
Georgia Southern University, United States
Title : Correlations between sensory processing sensitivity, childhood adversity and student nurses’ perceptions of health, stress, depression, and the nursing school experience


Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) is a genetically linked character trait reported in 20% of the population. Individuals with this trait are identified as Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs). HSPs are often drawn to caring professions such as nursing. It is therefore likely that a significant percentage of nursing students may be HSPs. During their training, HSP nursing students may become overstimulated when situations are intense and complex, leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, which can significantly impact their experience and performance. These feelings can escalate to uncontrollable stress, anxiety, and depression. These students require appropriate environments, tailored support, and strategic coping mechanisms to create a level of well-being that maintains their mental health and success. While mental health is critical for any nursing student’s successful education and transition into the profession, it is indispensable for those students who are HSPs. These students may suffer unnecessarily, potentially leading to withdrawal from nursing school and a decrease of newly licensed nurses coming into the nursing profession. The purpose of this mixed method study is to characterize senior nursing students in a baccalaureate nursing program who are HSPs, describe the association between their reported perceived stress and adverse childhood experiences in terms of their HSP status, and explore their perceptions of stress in nursing school, their general level of health, anxiety and depression, and their perceptions about their nursing school experiences.

This study used a descriptive design. Participants were recruited from a baccalaureate program in the Southeast. Scales used included the Perceived Stress Scale (measuring perceived stress), the Student Nurse Stress Index Scale (measuring perceived stress from being a nursing student), the Highly Sensitivity Person Scale (determining HSP status based on level of SPS), the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (measuring depression, anxiety, and general health), and the Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire for Adults (measuring adverse experiences as a child).

These analyses are useful in determining the interplay between ACEs and perceived stress (generally across the levels of HSP). HSPs who’ve experienced significant childhood adversity may be more vulnerable to negative environments. It has been demonstrated that HSPs have “differential susceptibility,” which means that they do worse than Non HSPs in unsupportive and negative environments, but they do better than Non HSPs in positive, supportive environments.

This study is the first to explore SPS among nursing students, the ACEs of nursing students and the collective impact both may have on nursing students’ experiences in a nursing program and their future transition into professional nursing. The findings from this study can contribute to a deeper understanding of the mental health concerns that nursing students face. Consequently, this mixed-method study serves as the impetus for future studies to examine interventions to improve the perceived experiences of nursing students using their status as an HSP. The intention is to identify interventions that can be implemented to improve the perceived experiences of these students in nursing school and to identify potential ways to cultivate the unique attributes that give HSPs the potential to be excellent nurses.

Audience Take Away Notes:

  • The audience will learn about sensory processing sensitivity in identifying highly sensitive persons.
  • The audience will be able to recognize the impact of being a highly sensitive person on nursing students’ experiences in a baccalaureate program.
  • The audience will be able to discuss pedagogical practices to improve nursing students’ experience in a baccalaureate program, particularly those described as highly sensitive persons.
  • The audience will be able to describe several attributes related to a nursing student who is a highly sensitive person. 


Dr. Gabrielson earned her Ph.D. in Nursing from the University of Iowa in 2009. She has multiple publications in peer-reviewed nursing journals and has presented at nursing and professional conferences across the United States. She has been a nursing instructor for 20 years and has taught a diversity of students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Her current interest in mental health among nursing students is drawn from her experience as an educator and aligns with AACN current initiatives to address well-being among nursing students.