Care, Autonomy, and Gender in Nursing Practice: A Historical Study of Nurses’ Experiences

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Abstract

Background:

Care is the essence of the nursing role and is closely related to the concept of professional autonomy. Autonomy is implicated in power relations between doctors and nurses and between men and women. These relationships are closely linked to care practices and the inequality of nursing and medicine.

Purpose:

The aim of this study was to analyze nursing discourse regarding the concept of care and its relationship to the concept of autonomy and gender.

Methods:

This is a historical study based on oral interviews that took place between November 2008 and February 2011. We interviewed 19 nursing professionals who currently worked at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit (near Barcelona) or had worked there between 1961 and 2010. Semistructured interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed.

Results:

We highlight four main themes: “a real nurse”; “more technology, less care”; “the fragility of autonomy”; and “the invisibility of nursing work.” These themes show the contradictions in the nursing profession that are based on the concept of care. However, in daily practice, the concept of care varies. Time pressure distances the nursing practice from its theoretical context. Changes in the concept of care are related to transformations in the health system and nursing work.

Conclusions/Implications for Practice:

Changes related to the autonomy of nursing are related to changes in the concept of care. In practice, care has a biomedical orientation. Care has become technologized and bureaucratized, which reduces the time that is spent with the patient. In a context in which medical authority predominates, nursing’s struggle for autonomy is based on the recognition of the value of care. When care becomes invisible, the autonomy of nursing as a profession is threatened. This conclusion allows reflections about shifts in the concept of care and how they affect clinical practice and the autonomy of the nursing profession.

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