McMaster University

McMaster University

Nurses perceive professionalism differently

By Amanda Boundris

Noori Akhtar-Danesh

Researchers from McMaster University's School of Nursing have identified four distinct viewpoints about professionalism held by nursing faculty and nursing students, and determined that contextual factors influence how an individual thinks about professionalism.

While professionalism has traditionally been difficult to define, some generally recognized descriptors include knowledge, specialization, intellectual and individual responsibility, and well-developed group consciousness. In today's challenging nursing landscape, with the changing nature of work and generational differences, it has become more critical to define, understand and encourage the development of professional characteristics in order to avoid misunderstandings as well as unrealistic and unclear expectations.

In their research published online on May 16 in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, the team led by Noori Akhtar-Danesh, an associate professor with the nursing school, found that individuals fell into one of four groups: humanists, portrayers, facilitators, and regulators.

Humanists believe that professional values include respect for human dignity, personal integrity, and patient protection. Portrayers view professionalism as being strongly tied to one's image, attire, and expression being appropriate to the context or situation. For facilitators, being a professional not only involves standards and policies, but also personal beliefs and values. They also feel it important to advocate for patients, families, their community and profession. Regulators view professionalism as being fostered by a workplace in which suitable beliefs and standards are communicated, accepted, and implemented by its staff. They consider self-regulation important.

The researchers used Q-methodology, which combines qualitative and quantitative techniques in an effort to identify unique viewpoints as well as commonly shared views on a research topic.

While some shared views between the groups emerged, the vast differences in how they view professionalism may be affected by a number of contextual variables, including control of nursing practice, quality of nursing work life, professional support, shared governance, and environmental culture and climate, the authors note.

They add that this, along with the minimal research available in the area of nursing professionalism and the lack of universally agreed-on definitions for major concepts like profession and autonomy, indicates the need for future research with respondents from other areas of nursing practice, including clinical settings, administration, research, and education as well as other health care professionals.

"With advances in health care and societal changes, health care professions need to adapt and respond to societal expectations regarding professionalism to meet the needs of patients, families, and communities,' the researchers wrote. "The findings of this study indicate that professional values continue to be of importance to nursing students and faculty members."

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