The profession and practice of nursing has been studied from quite diverse scholarly perspectives in the United States and abroad. Feminist critiques focus on the gendering of caring and its knowledge/skill features, while professionalization advocates view emotive caring as secondary to other critical activities necessary for the occupational advancement of nursing. Based on ethnographic observations 30 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with nurses across different units working at a large urban hospital, this paper examines how nurses define caring as knowledge-based, skilled work. Specifically, nurses described four types of skills—observational, analytical, interactional, and comforting—that they deploy in the accomplishment of caring work at the bedside. My findings go beyond previous literature in this area by showing how nurses think of caring work in line with occupational strategies that emphasize their biomedical knowledge and diagnostic skills and uphold an advocacy or intermediary role in health care. I argue that while this ideological work may reassure nurses of their professional identity and critical role in health care, it may also reinforce the dilemma of nurse professionalization by obscuring the organizational nature of caring, as it remains an unsupported dimension of their work.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science