Re-conceptualising holism in the contemporary nursing mandate: From individual to organisational relationships


Davina Allen


Over the last forty years, nursing's claim to professional expertise has been expressed in terms of its care-giving function. Informed by a distinctive ‘holistic’ approach, models of nursing identify therapeutic relationships as the cornerstone of practice. While ‘knowing the patient’ has been central to clinicians' occupational identity, research reveals that nurses not only experience significant material constraints in realising these ideals, their contribution to healthcare extends far beyond direct work with patients. Amidst growing concern about healthcare quality, a body of critical commentary has emerged proposing that the contemporary nursing mandate, with its exclusive focus on care-giving, is no longer serving the interests of the profession or the public. Drawing on an ethnographic study of UK hospital nurses' ‘organising work’ and insights from practice-based approaches and actor network theory, this paper lays the foundations for a re-conceptualisation of holism within the nursing mandate centred on organisational rather than therapeutic relationships. Nurses can be understood as obligatory passage points in health systems and through myriad processes of ‘translational mobilisation’ sustain the networks through which care is organised.


Social Science & Medicine, Volume 119, October 2014, Pages 131