A Nurse who has ‘Sold her Soul’?


cropped-nursing-badge-e1398349876516.jpgWhen I was 26 I decided that I wanted to do a different nursing role and I became a research nurse for a programme that aimed to develop an quality of life assessment tool. I don’t think you can do much more patient centred work than this but despite that my father-in-law told me that I had ‘sold my soul’ and all ‘proper’ nurses were at the bedside and I was wasting the money that had been invested in my training. This was an ongoing debate between us but essentially I ignored him. This wasn’t the last time similar things would be said to me in my career. Later when I went to help to set up the NHS Direct service I was told by other nurses that I had ruined my career and I would never get another job. It was clear to me that for my father-in-law and for these other people the professional identity of a nurse was firmly uniformed and at the bedside.

I recently read an interesting paper that seeks to understand issues of professional identity for medical professionals who have adopted a managerial leadership role. This strikes me as in many ways like a nurse who has moved into new professional contexts away from the bedside. I thought it would be interesting to use the framework identified in this work for personal reflection on my career and professional identity as a nurse, manager and informatics specialist. Be prepared! If you read the whole paper I found it a hard read, reaching as it does into sociology and organisational theory.

So here it is I will try to summarise what I see as the key points from the paper. I have taken the key conceptual points but not dived into the full conceptual framework (I suspect that would be a PhD!).

13971283 - two halves of the paper masks on a wooden backgroundThe paper ‘Hybrid Manager- Professionals’ Identity Work: the Maintenance and Hybridization of Medical Professionalism in Managerial Contexts’ (McGivern et al 2015) concludes that there are two types of storylines that are used around medical managerial roles i.e. roles when a doctor adopts a managerial role in addition to that of a medic. The article used comparable data from three studies of organisational change in the NHS and used identity theory work in order to create a new classification framework.

The first role identified is doctors who are described as ‘incidental hybrids’, those who find themselves in positions of management responsibility but do this through a sense of responsibility or duty. They are likely to maintain strong personal professional identity, continuing to see themselves principally as part of their professional group, managing the same traditional professional individual and group norms. They usually position themselves in these roles in a transitory way often by obligation. These types of clinical managers usually represent and protect institutionalised professionalism. They seek to align themselves to their professional identity and group first and may down play the managerial aspects of their role. They are likely to adopt a ‘representation’ position in relation to their profession.

In contrast, ‘willing hybrids’ are those professionals who have adopted and integrated a broader professional identity earlier in their careers or later in response to professional identity challenges; they have thought through the breadth of professionalism and see it extending beyond that of the traditional model and have embraced this identity. They have a different professional narrative to a traditional one, often formed by mentors and role models, where they have identified and sought to resolve professional identity conflicts and embrace the hybrid role. An example of this might be the tension between the attention to a single patient versus the needs of a population, weighing up the collective good versus individual need or where there is a need for professionals to align themselves with managers rather than seeking purely a professional allegiance. Willing clinical managers often position themselves as a professional elite seeing the management of others and/or services as a more challenging role. These are professionals who have embraced a permanent hybrid state. They are likely to be misaligned with traditional models of professionalism by engaging with others outside of the traditional professional hierarchy, for example managers, to the extent that others may accuse them of ‘moving to the dark side’.

I found this article to be really thought provoking making me reflect on my role in relation to nursing professionalism and my career.

Through my career I have sought managerial roles where the impact of what I do extends beyond that of individual patients and have been accused in the past of having ‘sold my soul (to management)’ and yet I still feel firmly placed in a nursing professional context. I think I have managed to reconcile my adopted roles and integrate these with my professional identity. Early in my career I admired nurses who were visible change agents, doing new things and leading us to new thinking. My move to being a hybrid professional came reasonably early in my career.

My extension of thinking around the contribution of nursing and the broader professional agenda was influenced by people in novel and innovative roles. Two examples spring to mind: Alison Kitson  who I met in the late 80s/early 90s when she was working on standards of care I so wanted to work on similar creative and innovative work. Similarly, in the early 1990s I went to Leicester Royal Infirmary and met Helen Bevan (@helenbevan) who was then leading innovative service improvement initiatives I can remember wanting exactly that job. It’s funny but I now know Helen and although my visit is very memorable to me I know she can’t remember it! Finally in the early 2000s I was very inspired by Maxine Craig (@maxine_craig) who was a nurse who had already taken a step towards a realignment of her professional identity and I was in awe of the improvement work she was doing and again I remember thinking I really wanted her job!  Of course I never did get any of those service improvement roles despite trying – sometimes its being in the right place at the right time!

I still feel hurt when others make the observation that I am ‘no longer a real nurse’ as in my reflection of professional and personal identity I believe that it is possible to both be a nursing professional but one whose role extends beyond that of direct patient care. I see this accusation as similar to those who accuse doctors in management as having moved to the ‘dark side’.

My reflection is that nurses who work in informatics or technology roles also have adopted hybrid professional roles where there is the necessity to blend professional identity and influence change at scale, including influencing what we might consider to be out-dated and old-fashioned professional nursing practices.

15350566 - people-puzzle isolated on a whiteI can also see how this is challenging and why professionals with these blended professional identities seek to join a new professional tribe, where the issues of professional identity management and norms can be more safely explored. These tribes also create alternative role models and mentors. I feel that this is emerging in the informatics community where they have even selected to embark on a journey of professionalisation.

who are youMy conclusion is that I have a tendency toward being a willing hybrid who elected to adopt a role that seeks to combine professional identity to a specialist informatics role. I believe that it is possible to hold the values of patient driven care at a population level beyond that of meeting the needs of an individual patient.

The paper discusses in more detail the impact of hybrid professionals and identity work and I recommend it as reading in particular for those who find themselves in non-traditional professional roles.

Thanks to Pete Thomond (@pete.Thomond) , Managing Director, CleverTogether, for bringing this paper to my attention but also for his analysis of the paper which helped to form my reflections.

I believe that the phrase ‘Once a nurse, always a nurse!’ is true but it is possible to adopt a hybrid professional identity; these hybrid roles, that push the boundaries of traditional professionalism, create the climate for professional tensions that lead to change, modernisation and improvement.

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3 thoughts on “A Nurse who has ‘Sold her Soul’?

  1. I recently retired from work after 45y as a nurse , latterly working as a senior practice nurse. Throughout my career I always felt happier when someone in management (?higher up the ladder?) had previously worked as a hands on nurse. I had the thought that they like me would always ‘put the patient first’ and bear in mind the difficulties nurses may have in delivering the very best care every time. It never ceased to amaze me how many non nurse/non clinical manager could make the most stupid decisions making the clinicians job harder. As simple as where the handbasin was placed in a clinical area in a new build gp surgery etc etc . Strange that I have retired and these things are so easily brought to mind ….. Keep up the good work the nurses who veered away from the bedside , you are the guardians of ‘nursing’.

  2. Thank you Anne, as so often with your blog there is much resonance with my own experience. Whilst latterly in my NHS career I had little opportunity to deliver hands on care (although when the opportunity arose I leapt to it). I found it frustrating when colleagues commented ” you don’t really understand what we do, because as a change agent I made ever effort to do so. At my core I am a nurse and still today call upon those skills, qualities and experience in all aspects of my life. We greatly underestimate clinicians who work in non clinical roles.

  3. This is really thought provoking Anne. I’m a year into a Professional Doctorate looking at transformational leadership as a response to the pressed behaviour in nurse academics. I believe the paper you quote and your blog feed into that notion! Your reflections also resonated on a personal level; my career has morphed from direct patient to care, into lecturing and latterly academic management / leadership.

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