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Feature: SHARING

Embracing a quixotic vision for nursing

Gary, Jodie C. PhD, RN

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doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000446630.78337.5a
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QUIXOTIC IS AN ADJECTIVE describing behavior that's noble in an absurd way or the desire to perform acts of chivalry in an impractical manner. The word comes from Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605. In the story, Alonso Quijano, a wealthy and studious older gentleman, has lost his sanity reading about the evils of the world. Envisioning the world as a better place, Quijano imagines himself to be Don Quixote, a knight on a quest to right wrongs and aid the oppressed.

Don Quixote is a classic hero who struggles to find the courage to view and live life not as it is, but as it could be. His story leads the reader to believe in the common good and a better way. Nursing in a complex health environment requires determined idealists and dreamers like Cervantes' hero to address complex healthcare issues.

Being Don Quixote

Nurses working within the healthcare system can identify with Don Quixote's struggle as they face an idealized view of humanity juxtaposed with the harshness of the real world. Nurses can promote a common good and look for better ways to advocate for safe, effective, and high-quality patient care. Nurses needn't accept healthcare as it is but rather envision it as it could be.

As nursing science has established, healthcare has numerous independent elements that continuously interact and spontaneously organize and reorganize themselves into more and more elaborate structures.1 Nursing embodies the four characteristics of complexity in human organizational systems:

  • Nurses work across interdisciplinary departments with many other healthcare providers, as well as with patients and families.
  • Nurses concurrently perform multiple and varied tasks.
  • Nurses make clinical judgments, perform clinical interventions, and manage written and/or electronic communications and recordkeeping.
  • Nurses work in fast-paced, uncertain healthcare environments with a goal of providing high-quality, safe patient care.2

Fully involved in the complexity of healthcare, nurses are charged with generating the nursing science needed for improvements.

Real-world idealism

A quixotic vision doesn't focus on the problems of nursing as a profession but embraces its science. Don Quixote's adventures involved situations in which he attempted to apply a knight's confident, simple morality to complex situations. If nursing science can describe the simple art of caring as safe and quality bedside care, one could solve increasingly complex issues through the application of a quixotic vision. Nurses shouldn't waste time on limitations but focus on strengths with the possibilities created within the complexity of healthcare delivery.

Taking on a bit of Don Quixote's quest for an ideal world in the face of adversity could certainly help the nursing profession. Adapting a quixotic vision can help nurses embrace the caring, courage, and passion within the complexity of healthcare and make the dream of advancing the common good through nursing science a reality.


1. Wilson M. Complexity theory. Whitireia Nurs J. 2009;16:18–24.
2. Fairchild RM. Practical ethical theory for nurses responding to complexity in care. Nurs Ethics. 2010;17(3):353–362.
© 2014 by Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.