A Phenomenology of Nursing

Joyce Schroeder MacQueen, Helen Elfert, Jean Innes, Elizabeth Finch


Do some of these conversation snatches sound familiar to you? Do you know of twenty more that could be added to the list to show how little the general public and even allied medical professions know about what nursing is? Do you and your fellow nurse agree on what nursing is?

It seems to this writer that the confusion in the minds of the public about what they may legitimately expect from nurses is a reflection of the confusion in the minds of nurses themselves about what nursing is. This type of confusion is commonly called an 'identity crisis'. Because of changes occurring in society as a whole as well as in medical services and education, the role of the nurse is no longer clearly defined. Nurses are asked to perform skills that previously belonged solely in the domain of the physician and in turn are delegating 'nursing' tasks to auxiliary personnel. This makes it difficult to know what 'nursing' is. Nurses in all areas are involved in this identity crisis but we will use as an illustration the nurse who graduated from a three year hospital diploma school of nursing. This nurse is desperate right now to know what nursing is. Below her in the hierarchical scheme are auxiliary nursing personnel who are taking over more and more of the traditional nursing functions. Above her in the hierarchy are the 'university nurses' who take the top positions and leave the diploma nurse little room for promotion. Besides this squeeze from above and below the traditional diploma nurse sees graduates of the newer two year schools of nursing as a further threat to her status because their presence implies that her education was inferior. In this changing pattern of nursing and nursing education, the traditional diploma nurse needs very badly to know what nursing is.

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