What Is Nursing?

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Nursing is universal in the sense that nurses can be found almost in all countries around the world (Henderson, 1978). They are in the hospitals, in school clinics, in the community centres, residential homes and even play major roles in some of the popular soap operas in television. There are even television shows that mainly revolve around nurses and which chronicles what they do at work - both the positive and the negative. It is one of the most visible and easily identifiable occupations as compared for example to other occupations such as engineers, managers or even pharmacists, medical technologists and other health related occupations. This is partly because of what nurses do and most especially how nurses look - with some still donning white uniforms with matching caps similar to what nurses in the Florence Nightingale era were wearing.

Despite its universality, it is ironic to note that nursing is viewed differently by people around the world depending on their location, their social status, their previous experience or contact with nurses (Henderson, 1978). In fact, even different governments of the world have differing views of what nursing is as evidenced by the different laws, qualifications, roles and responsibilities and definitions governing the practice of nursing, like for example nursing practice has huge difference in the United Kingdom and the United States (Henderson, 1978).

The purpose of this essay is to discuss some of these nursing issues. Specifically, discussion will be made on the different definitions of nursing from the Florence Nightingale’s period up to its modern definition from the point of view of different authors. In addition, discussion will be made on the diversity of roles and functions of nurses and the several issues put forward in the discussion whether nursing can be considered as a profession.

Is it really necessary to define nursing? After all, Florence Nightingale (1860) herself who is considered the proponent of modern nursing said that nursing is fluid. If nursing is indeed fluid, then it means that like water, it cannot be contained but it merely takes the form of its container. The United Kingdom Central Council (UKCC), in fact stated that defining nursing is like putting restrictions and limitations to the profession (RCN, 2003). Scott (2002), on the other hand, argued that modern nursing is in danger of vanishing if a consensus is not reached on what it means to be a nurse and if a definition that is acceptable in the modern setting is not reached.

Among the first definitions of nursing was that attributed to Florence Nightingale (1860) who defined nursing as letting the natural effect of the environment to take its course on the person so healing can occur. This definition by Nightingale gives more focus on the caring side of nursing. It emphasizes the role of nurses to put the patient in the best possible environment to make him comfortable so that nature can act upon him for cure to happen. It is interesting to note that some of the more contemporary definitions of nursing refer to it as an art which aptly fits into the description of Nightingale of caring.

Nightingale however further asserted that “every woman will at some point in the future be responsible for the health of another person, hence becoming a nurse” (1860). To some extent, this probably contributed to the fact that the nursing profession was mostly dominated by women until the recent years when men have started to take the profession as well. Unknowingly however, Nightingale may have given the nursing profession a disservice with that statement especially in the UK since this gave rise to the use of the word “nurse” by everyone who is engaged in “nursing/caring” activities even without the necessary education or qualifications of a truly registered nurse (RCN, 2003).

Among the other prominent definitions of nursing is that of Virginia Henderson which basically defines it as a...
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