Why Nurses Should Study Sociology

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Why Should Nurses Study Sociology?
Barbara Green and Sarah Earle
Key issues in this chapter

• • • • • • • •

The difference between sociology in nursing and sociology of nursing The value of developing sociological skills Using sociological skills in nursing practice Sociological knowledge: policy, practice and change

By the end of this chapter you should be able to . . . discuss the reasons why nurses should study sociology; understand the distinction between sociology of nursing and sociology in nursing; understand the value of sociological skills; discuss the role of sociological knowledge and the future of nursing practice.

1 Introduction
As your experience in clinical practice develops you will come across patients with a wide range of concerns and from a diversity of social backgrounds. The main aim of this chapter is to demonstrate the practical relevance of sociology to nursing, and to explore how sociology may provide you with exciting new ways with which to understand the needs of your patients. The next section discusses conceptual differences between sociology in nursing and sociology of nursing. Section 3 focuses on the cognitive skills that an appreciation of sociology may encourage, enabling you positively to shape and influence practice. Section 4 draws on empirical studies to demonstrate

cognitive relating to thinking processes

W H Y S H OU L D N U R S ES STU DY S O C I O LO G Y ?

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the role of sociology in exploring social issues in health and the social worlds of patients, nurses and other health care workers. The final section addresses the role of sociological knowledge in policy, practice and the future of nursing.

2 Sociology in nursing and sociology of nursing
There are two main types of sociological knowledge relevant to nurses: one is identified as sociology in nursing and the other as the sociology of nursing. Each type of knowledge has the scope to enable the ‘ordinary’ day-to-day work of nurses to be seen in a different light; it is this alternative perspective which is characteristic of sociology. Sociology encourages us to view everyday phenomena in a different way. It is like being given a new pair of glasses. This is sometimes referred to as problematizing; that is, what at first sight might seem unremarkable becomes problematic. More will be said about this later, but first let us turn to the distinction between sociology in and of nursing. Sociology can be defined most simply as the study of ‘human social life’ (Giddens, 2006, p. 4) (also see chapter 1 for a further discussion of defining sociology). A sociological approach to nursing locates the work of individual nurses squarely within a social context rather than considering it in isolation. In general terms, when a sociological analysis is applied to the essence of individual health care experience, whether it be that of patients or health care workers, this is termed ‘sociology in nursing’. ‘The sociology of nursing’ usually refers to issues affecting the profession as a whole, such as its occupational status, or recruitment and attrition problems (see chapter 4 for further discussion of nursing as an occupation). The role of sociology in relation to nursing is continuously debated within the literature. However, as Pinikahana (2003) has argued, the most important thing to remember is that sociology is only relevant to nurses if it is applied to nursing.

phenomena states or processes that can be observed problematizing looking beyond the obvious to seek an explanation

3 Sociology: helping develop skills
Is sociology just ‘common sense’?

It is important to clarify exactly how a knowledge of sociology can be of value to practising nurses. Can sociology be described as ‘just common sense’? Let us consider what sociology does have to offer nursing practice. In her treatment of the question, Hannah Cooke (1993, p. 215) describes sociology as an ‘emancipatory discipline’. By this she means that...
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