Philosophy has been a part of nursing at least since the days of Florence Nightingale. Nurses work independently or as part of a team, caring for the sick, injured, disabled and dying; promoting the health of individuals, families and communities; They are leaders in healthcare management, research, policy-making, and patient advocacy. Of all the healthcare professionals who take care of patients, the nurse is the constant factor in their care. It is this uniqueness that makes the standard definition of nursing nearly impossible.
“In nursing, you can’t be sure what will happen 10 minutes from now, let alone the end of your shift,” says Myriam Bender, associate professor of nursing at UCI. “We have a problem, quite literally, with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in our practice.”
To help solve this problem, I created the UCI Center for the Philosophy of Nursing in 2019. It provides a forum for discussion, discussion, and scholarship about a profession in flux. It is the first such academic center in the United States, and Bandar is the founding director.
“The idea of philosophy and nursing is because we deal with the moment, we deal with the difference, we deal with the unique — something that traditional knowledge structures and processes do not fit well,” she says. “We deal with patients with instability, under-resourced or different hospital systems, and so we do things within that complexity reliably and consistently. What we’ve noticed is that philosophy provides us with context to speak through the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ in Nursing is in ways that are more flexible and allow a bit more freedom than the established framework for knowledge generation.”
Discourse, debate, and science
Zoom lectures and reading groups hosted by the Center for Nursing Philosophy cover a wide range of topics, from Jainism to racism, and have generated significant interest and participation from colleagues across the United States and around the world. The annual fellowship supporting nursing science graduate students and new faculty continues to develop and disseminate scholarships in the philosophy of nursing.
CNP inaugural fellow, UCI graduate student of nursing sciences, Zahra Shrifehiris, has made a comprehensive assessment of the concept of nursing philosophy in the current literature. She presented her findings at the 2020 Virtual International Conference on Nursing Philosophy.
“Nursing has struggled with the lack of an agreed-upon source of knowledge, so ideas and sources of knowledge are often borrowed from other professional fields, such as the medical humanities or philosophy,” Shriveris says. The problem exists because nursing has a unique perspective on patients’ health. We don’t just look at what we can test and monitor and then implement a specific framework and rule. One standard does not work because people have different backgrounds and cultures. We need the flexibility to create new, reliable nursing knowledge.”
CNP Fellow of the Year is Jess Dillard Wright, assistant professor of nursing at Augusta University in Georgia. Her scholarship focuses on radical ethics. “The goal is to find answers to questions that offer a different version of what a nurse looks like other than the traditional ‘lady with the lamp’. I really like connecting with people outside the field and inviting ways to assess how nursing is positioned in the community so that we think of health and wellbeing as a function of society, rather than a focus narrowly on the individual,” she says.
Bringing philosophy to the real world
Josh Doolin is a graduate student in philosophy in the University of California College of the Humanities. He and Bender—along with idea creator Mark Rigord, Professor of Philosophy at Emory University—are currently developing a pilot course for graduate students of the nursing sciences and entry-level nursing faculty interested in the intersection between philosophy and nursing scholarship.
Philosophers argue carefully and seek conceptual clarity. “They have technical tools, often logic and a number of concepts and variations, that can shed light on almost any issue,” Doolin says. “Some philosophers are interested in applying their technical tools to issues related to public affairs and professional roles, something I have always wanted to do. I am always looking for opportunities to introduce philosophy into the real world, as it were, and I thought getting involved with the UCI Center for Nursing Philosophy was a One of those opportunities.
Bender believes that philosophy provides a flexible framework that enables nurses to work through problems and find solutions that traditional methods do not provide. “Often, we use dialectical, more philosophical, discourse,” she says. “For example, the COVID pandemic is a fast-paced, dynamic situation. Traditional ways of doing research take a long time to generate the knowledge needed to act, and by the time you do that, the world has progressed and things are different. Welcome to Nursing.”
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