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Thinking about patients and talking about persons in critical care nursing

Thinking about patients and talking about persons in critical care nursing
Thinking about patients and talking about persons in critical care nursing
Nursing scholarship and healthcare policy set an expectation that nurses should think about patients as persons. Nevertheless, the literature reveals that critical care nurses can struggle to perceive patients as persons, and thus suggests they may think about patients in different ways. This thesis presents the findings of an ethnographic study undertaken within one critical care unit in the United Kingdom which examined how critical care nurses do think about patients.

A purposive sampling strategy recruited 7 participants representing both experienced and inexperienced critical care nurses. Data were collected over a period of 8 months during 2006 to 2007, and primarily comprised the field notes from 92 hours of participant observation supplemented by 13 tape recorded interviews. Data analysis was influenced by Foucault and Goffman and adopted the perspective of linguistic ethnography. Analysis revealed that all participants thought about patients in seven distinct ways: as ‘social beings’, as ‘valued individuals’, as ‘routine work’, as a ‘set of needs’, as a ‘body’, as ‘(un)stable’ or as a ‘medical case’.

Accounts of participants’ practice revealed that they had a tacit understanding that these different ways of thinking related to aspects of one coherent whole, but no one way of thinking could be characterised as thinking about this ‘whole person’. Nurses could only think about one aspect of the patient at a time. Nurses’ practice was not guided or explained by their thinking about patients as persons, but rather expert practice was characterised by nurses’ fluid and appropriate movement between different ways of thinking about patients.

When participants talked about their practice it was evident that these nurses could only legitimately talk about themselves as giving care to persons. Participants characterised some of the ways in which they had to think about patients as impersonal, and this actively hindered these nurses from describing or reflecting upon elements of their practice. There is therefore conflict and dissonance between nurses’ expectation that they should think about patients as persons, and the fact that delivering nursing care requires them to think about patients in different ways.

The development of future critical care nurses will require practitioners and educators to recognise that nurses think about patients in different ways, and that expert practice is characterised by the clinical wisdom which enables nurses to think about patients in ways which are appropriate to the moment. Nurse scholars and educationalists should therefore avoid claims to a unique professional knowledge base which suggest to nurses that some ways of thinking are always inappropriate or inherently reductionist. Instead, there is a need for scholars and policy makers to articulate a vision of person centred care clearly, and in ways which avoid constructing dissonance between nurses’ ideals, and the ways in which they do and must think about patients.
University of Southampton
McLean, Christopher Duncan
04c1b951-0f57-4d2e-a910-ea814c785166
McLean, Christopher Duncan
04c1b951-0f57-4d2e-a910-ea814c785166
Gobbi, Mary
829a5669-2d52-44ef-be96-bc57bf20bea0
Coombs, Maureen
e7424ed2-6beb-481d-8489-83f3595fd04c

McLean, Christopher Duncan (2012) Thinking about patients and talking about persons in critical care nursing. University of Southampton, Faculty of Health Sciences, Doctoral Thesis, 304pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Nursing scholarship and healthcare policy set an expectation that nurses should think about patients as persons. Nevertheless, the literature reveals that critical care nurses can struggle to perceive patients as persons, and thus suggests they may think about patients in different ways. This thesis presents the findings of an ethnographic study undertaken within one critical care unit in the United Kingdom which examined how critical care nurses do think about patients.

A purposive sampling strategy recruited 7 participants representing both experienced and inexperienced critical care nurses. Data were collected over a period of 8 months during 2006 to 2007, and primarily comprised the field notes from 92 hours of participant observation supplemented by 13 tape recorded interviews. Data analysis was influenced by Foucault and Goffman and adopted the perspective of linguistic ethnography. Analysis revealed that all participants thought about patients in seven distinct ways: as ‘social beings’, as ‘valued individuals’, as ‘routine work’, as a ‘set of needs’, as a ‘body’, as ‘(un)stable’ or as a ‘medical case’.

Accounts of participants’ practice revealed that they had a tacit understanding that these different ways of thinking related to aspects of one coherent whole, but no one way of thinking could be characterised as thinking about this ‘whole person’. Nurses could only think about one aspect of the patient at a time. Nurses’ practice was not guided or explained by their thinking about patients as persons, but rather expert practice was characterised by nurses’ fluid and appropriate movement between different ways of thinking about patients.

When participants talked about their practice it was evident that these nurses could only legitimately talk about themselves as giving care to persons. Participants characterised some of the ways in which they had to think about patients as impersonal, and this actively hindered these nurses from describing or reflecting upon elements of their practice. There is therefore conflict and dissonance between nurses’ expectation that they should think about patients as persons, and the fact that delivering nursing care requires them to think about patients in different ways.

The development of future critical care nurses will require practitioners and educators to recognise that nurses think about patients in different ways, and that expert practice is characterised by the clinical wisdom which enables nurses to think about patients in ways which are appropriate to the moment. Nurse scholars and educationalists should therefore avoid claims to a unique professional knowledge base which suggest to nurses that some ways of thinking are always inappropriate or inherently reductionist. Instead, there is a need for scholars and policy makers to articulate a vision of person centred care clearly, and in ways which avoid constructing dissonance between nurses’ ideals, and the ways in which they do and must think about patients.

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More information

Published date: September 2012
Organisations: University of Southampton, Faculty of Health Sciences

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 349086
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/349086
PURE UUID: 61129f83-c2fe-4496-b97d-4e98b56a735d

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 07 Mar 2013 14:03
Last modified: 28 Jun 2019 16:31

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Contributors

Thesis advisor: Mary Gobbi
Thesis advisor: Maureen Coombs

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