Oral Presentation The 26th International Nursing Philosophy Conference 2023

The cost of professionalization: a decolonial feminist perspective on hospitals and hospital schools (#11)

Natalie Stake-Doucet 1
  1. Faculty of Nursing, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Nursing is widely described in nursing literature as being founded in the Victorian era in Britain by Florence Nightingale. While more and more critical scholarship is emerging about the legacy of Nightingale, the work is just beginning. This review aims to offer a decolonial feminist perspective on nurses' dislocation from communities to hospitals; from a largely autonomous and unregulated work to a regulated profession under medical domination. Inspired from the philosophical work of critical feminist Silvia Federici and decolonial feminist Françoise Vergès, this historical review explores the consequences of the standardization of nurse training in hospitals and the subsequent professionalization of nursing work.

First, this review challenges the widely held assumption that Nightingale's reform was an advance for women's rights in Britain. A historical review of nursing work and the condition of women in Victorian Britain indicates that nursing was built on sexist and racist foundations, which became instrumental in the political process of professionalization. The Nightingale reform began a long process of segregating nurses along race and class lines through professionalization.

Secondly, this review describes how the consolidation of nurse training under hospital rule allowed nursing to become an instrument of colonial violence and medical domination. The export of hospital schools based on the Nightingale model became a hallmark of British colonialism. Colonial nurses played a central role in undermining and destroying Indigenous healing practices. Furthermore, in Britain itself and in the occupied colonized territories, nurses were being mobilized by physicians to attack midwives and undermine their knowledge and practice. In some countries, this led to the outlawing of midwifery, with devastating consequences for maternal health. 

Finally this review makes the case for a history of nursing that goes beyond professionalization and the development of a feminist philosophy of nursing. 



  1. Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the Witch. United Kingdom: Autonomedia.
  2. Vergès, F. (2021). A Decolonial Feminism. United Kingdom: Pluto Press.
  3. Niles, M. P. and Drew, M. (2020) Constructing the Modern American Midwife: White Supremacy and White Feminism Collide. Nursing Clio. https://nursingclio.org/2020/10/22/constructing-the-modern-american-midwife-white-supremacy-and-white-feminism-collide/
  4. DiGregorio, S. (2023). Taking Care: The story of nursing and it's power to change our world. United States: Harper Collins.
  5. Flynn, K. (2012). Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora. Canada: University of Toronto Press.