Nurses as Antibiotic Brokers: Institutionalized Praxis in the Hospital

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Abstract

We are likely moving rapidly toward a post-antibiotic era, as a result of escalating antimicrobial resistance, rapidly declining antibiotic production and profligate overuse. Hitherto research has almost exclusively focused on doctors’ prescribing, with nurses’ roles in antibiotic use remaining virtually invisible. Drawing on interviews with 30 nurses, we focus on nurses as brokers of doctors’ antibiotic decisions, nursing capacity to challenge doctors’ decisions, and, “back stage” strategies for circumnavigating organizational constraints. We argue that nurses occupy an essential and conscious position as brokers within the hospital; a subject position that is not neutral, facilitates (short-term) cohesion, and involves the pursuit of particular (preferred) nursing outcomes. Illustrating how authority can be diffuse, mediated by institutionalized praxis, and how professionals evade attempts to govern their practice, we challenge the reification of physician prescribing power, arguing that it may work against the utilization of nurses as important stakeholders in the future of antibiotics.

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