Group of students at medical university
HealthDecember 14, 2021

Contemporary ideas about nursing: Can they inform nursing education and practice?

By: Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
The field of nursing is guided by many theoretical and philosophical ideas that change over time. These ideas offer different perspectives on nursing practice as a whole and its relationship to nursing as a subject.

The development of evidence-based practice is entwined within that relationship, which may make it difficult for nursing students to make sense of diverse viewpoints. It may also make it challenging for experienced nurses to relate to certain viewpoints.

Seeking to understand nursing to guide curriculum and practice

Recently, the authors of an article in Advances in Nursing Science attempted to critically inquire about contemporary ideas about nursing as a subject. It was the hope of the authors that these ideas could then help guide the development of nursing curriculum, as well as help students better learn, understand, and eventually practice nursing.

Three primary questions drove the study:

  1. What ideas about nursing as a subject exist among students and clinically active nurses?
  2. Are there differences between students’, clinically active nurses’, and nurse educators’ attitudes to different ideas about nursing as a subject?
  3. What common features, with pedagogic implications for developing nursing as a subject, follow from the identified ideas about nursing as a subject?

Participation in the project occurred in three cycles. To explore the study questions, the research team recruited 238 students from a major university in Sweden and its allied health services during cycles one and two. These individuals were viewed as “users” of education, since the group included were students and their future professional nursing colleagues. In cycle three of the study, participants in a national health care higher education conference were invited to join.

Nine ideas about the nursing profession from nursing students and practitioners

The study authors identified nine key ideas about nursing as a composite of subject, nursing practice, and being a nurse. These ideas were initially defined from the perspectives of nursing students and clinically active nurses in cycle one; in cycle two, students, active nurses, and nurse educators all provided input. In cycle three, it was demonstrated that these ideas do reflect different theoretical conceptualizations and epistemologies. The nine ideas were as follows:

  1. Nursing is holistic.
  2. Nursing is about being able to see the healthy and the sick at the same time.
  3. Nursing is seeing needs beyond the here and now.
  4. Nursing is prioritizing — there is not enough time for nursing and there is palpable time pressure in today’s healthcare.
  5. Nursing is taking time without showing there is no time.
  6. Nursing is handling responsibility alone.
  7. Nursing is following checklists and guidelines.
  8. Nursing is about meeting people — creating a sense of security.
  9. Nursing makes it possible for someone to live their life.

Many of these ideas actually refer to nurses’ clinical assessment of patient situations, often referred to as the nurses’ clinical gaze. However, the practice of nursing may be impacted by the differences between research-based evidence and the use of practical knowledge dimensions and experience-based knowledge by individual nurses.

The authors note that these potentially conflicting attitudes about the practice of nursing may help explain the confusion many students and professional nurses feel with regard to nursing as a conglomeration of subject, nursing practice, and actually being a nurse. This may help to promote clinical reflections and dialogues about how different ideas can be more systematically addressed during educational curriculum to better prepare students for the real world of nursing.

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Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Freelance Health and Medical Content Writer, Wolters Kluwer Health
Sarah has over nine years’ experience in various clinical areas, including surgery, endocrinology, family practice, and pharmaceuticals. She began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside to help educate and inform healthcare consumers and providers.
  1. Advances in Nursing Science: October/December 2021 - Volume 44 - Issue 4 - p 368-383 doi: 10.1097/ANS.0000000000000379
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