What Is Defining Nursing

Have you ever been asked “what does a nurse do?” How did you reply? Did you go down the oversimplified line of “we care for patients”? Did you dismiss your skills with “we wipe bums all day”? Or did you fall into the trap of simply reciting a list of tasks?

Nurses seem to be perplexed by this question. As a profession, we are not good at defining what we do.  Perhaps we find it difficult because there is no single definition that perfectly fits all nurses.  The specialities and career paths available to nurses are so wide and varied, even those within our profession struggle to understand the roles of those outside our own areas.

Perhaps it is because others have dismissed us as “just nurses” and belittled our contributions to healthcare and society.  Perhaps it is because, as the name suggests, nursing takes ‘practice’ in order to fully understand what it is we really do when we complete our tasks.  Perhaps it is because we undervalue our skills, our education, ourselves.

I don’t have the all-encompassing, wisdom filled definition. I am still figuring out what it means to me to be a nurse and that may end up being completely different to what it means to you.  Through “Defining Nursing”, I hope to explore all the wonderful aspects of nursing, as well as those parts which aren’t so great.

I write about things I am passionate about, with my inspiration often coming from situations that arise on the wards, topics that were debated in the tearoom, or interesting conversations or articles posted on social media.  While some posts will focus on education, the majority will simply be my own personal reflections and ideas.  I hope you might connect with some of what I say or see a reflection of your own nursing journey.

I would love for “Defining Nursing” to become a platform where nurses can share their thoughts and ideas, where we can support and encourage each other and further grow our nursing community.  To that end, if you would like to submit a guest blog, please contact me at laurie@definingnursing.com and I hope you will comment and share those posts which resonate with you.

As for my definition of nursing, it continues to grow every day. I know we are healers, educators, leaders, advocates, carers and so much more.  We are nurses.




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6 thoughts on “What Is Defining Nursing

  1. Hi Laurie. Interesting question and hard to define. I looked at this many years ago when I was studying. One of the problems is a lack of unique body of knowledge We have allowed our field of practice to be eroded by other professionals such as OT, physio etc. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this

  2. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for your comment and you raise a very valid point. I don’t see it so much as other allied health professionals eroding our scope, rather than they supplement and build on the work we have started. Those working in larger hospitals can readily call upon the help of OTs, physios, speechies etc and their input is invaluable. Yet in smaller hospitals, rural or remote settings, or even just working on the weekend in large hospitals, nurses have to cover all these roles.

    In essence, nurses combine the work of physios, OTs, social workers and speechies etc., when caring for their patients. I’m not saying we do it to the same extent or bring the same level of expertise, but we certainly still do it. After all, we are often the ones referring these patients to allied health for further assessment and support.

    This overlap can create confusion when trying to define our role, in the literature but also on the ward. How often have you heard “oh that’s the physio’s job”? Or as one SW jokingly said to me “patient crying equals immediate SW call”. Perhaps it is through more interprofessional education, starting from the undergraduate level, that we might be able to re-think how we define all allied health professional roles.

  3. Hi Laurie,

    I have a written piece that I have considered getting published in a nursing magazine or website for some time.

    Let me know if you are interested in reading it 🙂


    • Hi Olivia,

      I’d love to read it! Email it through to laurie@definingnursing.com

      Or else you might want to consider submitting it to one of the ACN publications like The Hive or Nurse Click. The worst they can say is no thanks, but it could also see it published in an upcoming issue.


  4. Hey Laurie!

    I once read a quote, I think it was someone’s Facebook comment to a nursing post. It said “nurses are too often defined in the media by their virtues, and not their skills and knowledge”.

    I felt so connected with this statement as I work in an ED and too often my friends downplay what I do, all the extra study I do. I might be taking a blood pressure but there is so much critical thinking and analysis going on inside my head only to have my thoughts broken with “my cup of tea is too cold”.

    I once had a child care worker tell me that “I’ve done more first aid than you have in a whole week”

    I’ve had a graphic designer tell me “nurses really have it easy”.

    I’ve had an OT student say “do nurses do CPR or is that the doctors job?”

    Three different professions. Three misunderstandings of our profession.

    To all of these I can just sit still and think to myself “you have no idea”.

    How do you define nursing?

    I have no idea

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