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A Philosophical Model of the Nature of Nursing

Green, Catherine

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000247

Background Today, when nurses are expected to manage large stores of data while providing precision care to individuals or groups of patients, it seems more important than ever that we understand the nature of nursing. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in examining what nursing is and how a clear understanding would impact nursing practice.

Objective The goal of this article is to review an ontological account of nursing that seeks to understand the nature of nursing by showing the relation between the goal and structure of nursing care in association with the persons who are its recipients and practitioners.

Discussion Nursing is directed to the care and well-being of persons, prevention of illness, restoration of health, and alleviation of suffering. Following the lead of many prior nurse theorists, I argue that nursing is a coherent unity of practice. Its various activities often occur in a clinically intimate interaction and are colored and shaped by the existential concern of the persons involved. Nursing care is directed to all the numerous aspects of the human person, is governed by a broadly ethical mandate and unified by its caring goal. Furthermore, these interactions in their reality, intimacy, and complexity allow for a kind of knowledge that is important for and unique to nursing.

Catherine Green, PhD, RN, is Professor Emerita, Department of Philosophy, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri.

Accepted for publication June 15, 2017.

A version of this paper was presented at the 2012 International Philosophy of Nursing Society Conference, Leeds, UK. Many thanks to Derek Sellman, Associate Professor of Nursing at the University of Alberta, Canada, for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

The paper was accepted under the Editorship of Susan J. Henly.

The author has no conflicts of interest to report.

Corresponding author: Catherine Green, PhD, RN, Department of Philosophy, Rockhurst University, 1100 Rockhurst Road, Kansas City, MO 64110 (e-mail:

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