Oral Presentation The 26th International Nursing Philosophy Conference 2023

We need a disciplinary embrace of the political (#59)

Lisa A Wolf 1 , Hannah S Noblewolf 2
  1. Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Hadley, MA, United States
  2. Anthropology, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY, United States

Nurses occupy a strategic position that allows them to act as agents of the state, or resist – they practice at the flexing point of the state’s requirements in the context of the nurse-patient relationship. In the US currently, legislative and social currents place nursing at the nexus of professional ethics and political climate. Nurses have historically been forced to choose between preserving autonomy and safety for their patients, and their own safety and freedoms. We would argue that this tension between legislative directive and professional ethics requires a new understanding of nursing identity which is intensely “political”, with the nurse as an inherently political being, a transforming agent of realities, an educator and translator between the needs of society and the realities of health services provision.

Our recent study of emergency nurses’ experiences managing obstetric emergencies in states with abortion care-limiting laws found significant self-reported deficits in both education and training around the management of obstetric emergencies, as well as a lack of awareness of care-limiting legislation and the clinical, ethical, and legal implications for both emergency care staff and for patients. This seems to reflect an unwillingness on the part of the nurses who participated in this study to enter into what is considered a “political” discourse. This is possibly due to a neoliberal political environment which impedes explicit discussion of political engagement for nurses or may be linked to a narrow focus in nursing education on the dyadic nurse-patient relationship. We note that emergency nurses describing their experiences to us, involving patients with obstetric emergencies in previable pregnancies consider their beliefs around bodily autonomy, compare themselves to other women, and render judgment of patients seeking abortions within the scope of their own experience, rather than placing these experiences into a larger political and cultural context.

  1. Barbee, E. L. (1993). Racism in US nursing. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 7(4), 346-362.
  2. Buck-McFadyen, E., & MacDonnell, J. (2017). Contested practice: Political activism in nursing and implications for nursing education. International journal of nursing education scholarship, 14(1).
  3. Jenkins, D., Wolfe, I., & Dillard-Wright, J. (2023). Nurses as Disciplinary Agents of the State: Ethical Practice and Mandatory Reporting in the United States. Advances in Nursing Science, 10-1097.
  4. McLemore, M. R., Kools, S., & Levi, A. J. (2015). Calculus formation: Nurses’ decision‐making in abortion‐related care. Research in nursing & health, 38(3), 222-231.
  5. Magagnin, A. B., Aires, L. C. P., Freitas, M. A., Heidemann, I. T. S. B., & Maia, A. R. C. (2018). The nurse as a political-social being: perspectives of a professional in transformation. Ciênc Cuid Saúde, 17(1), 1-7.
  6. Perron, A., Fluet, C., & Holmes, D. (2005). Agents of care and agents of the state: Bio‐power and nursing practice. Journal of advanced nursing, 50(5), 536-544.