By Melanie Grimes
The role and influence of nurses continues to expand as their competencies are recognized and the overall shortage of physicians continues. Nurses are on the front line of responding to patient needs in the hospital room, the clinic setting, and in home healthcare. The role of nurses is also expanding in the area of administration and even financial budgeting.
What is Power in Nursing?
The term “power in nursing” describes a nurse’s ability to wield influence, mobilize resources, and empower patients. This includes the power to heal and the power to influence others. Expanding the latter is the concept of expert power, which involves using knowledge to influence others. Nursing personnel are now a strong and functional part of healthcare organization leadership.
The Women’s Movement, Gender Roles, and Power in Nursing
Nursing was originally conducted mainly by women in the home. As the profession developed, a mostly female workforce maintained the status quo in a male-dominated medical world. Further, the culture long held that caring for others was women’s work, while engaging competitively in the workplace, and therefore earning more power, was a man’s work. It was considered that these two elements—being caring and being competitive—could not coexist. Fortunately, gender roles are changing as more doctors are women, more nurses are men, and it has been shown that shared collaboration and teamwork benefits patient outcomes, regardless of gender roles.
Power of Nurses and the Physician Shortage
The increasing physician shortage, especially in rural areas, is a glaring example of the overwhelming need for more and better trained nursing personnel to fill expanding coverage gaps. Empowering nurses becomes even more important in light of this shortage. The education of nurse practitioners, and their increasing presence in rural communities provides remote areas with much needed medical care. As this trend continues, nurses in positions of authority will likely increase.
Nurses are Primary Observers and Caretakers
The nursing staff are often the ones in the trenches. They are the primary observers of patients and the ones who know their intimate and detailed needs. This is especially true in hospital settings where the nursing staff watches over patients continually while the doctor continues on rounds. Nurses are the ones to ring the alarm bell and draw attention to a patient’s concerns.
What Creates “Nurse Power”?
A workplace that promotes and empowers nurses is the first prerequisite for encouraging a nurse’s power, also developed through education and growing confidence on the part of the individual nurse. A sense of personal empowerment can be enhanced by co-workers, including doctors, administrators, and fellow staff.
My Personal Thanks
When a family member was recently hospitalized, it was the nurse who relayed our concerns to the doctor, the nurse who we called for updates from the ICU, the nurse who called to tell us that they were administering CPR, and the nurse who met us at the door and told us he was gone. I later found out it was the nurse who held his hand as he died. This demonstrates the power given by the hospital administration for intimate care of a patient, and the compassionate care of one individual to another, for which I will always be grateful.
Melanie Kornfeld Grimes is a medical writer and a classically trained homeopath. She was adjunct professor at Bastyr University and the author of, Dr. John Bastyr: Philosophy and Practice. An award-winning screenwriter and author, her essays have been published by Penguin Putnam. Her work includes college textbooks, published biographies, and work in her own imprint, Alethea Book Company.
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