The debate over whether the nursing profession is a science or art has been ongoing, and the proponents of each point of view put forward contrasting arguments to support their opinions. As debates proceeded, it became evident that nursing has more apparent characteristics attributed to the scientific side of the argument. One of the most prominent opinions regarding ‘nursing as science’ is that art does not require educational training. Therefore, one cannot become a nurse without being educated in the medical sciences. For example, one should possess knowledge about medications, disease management, and first aid, in order to be considered a reliable professional in the field. However, ‘nursing as art’ is considered more than just knowledge – it implies action and the combination of science-based skills for giving the top quality care to patients. Despite the explanations for both sides of the argument, a clear conclusion has not been made yet.
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Nursing as a Science
According to the definition given by Shahriari, Mohammadi, and Bahrami (2013), nurses are healthcare service providers responsible for caring for patients on the basis of ethical issues. Nursing as science implies the implementation of observations based on the data available to a practitioner. Moreover, nurses have to undergo professional training, and, starting with a nursing school, acquire knowledge about various aspects of the medical practice (physiology, anatomy, microbiology, etc.). Therefore, without extensive training and knowledge, a nurse cannot become successful in his or her career.
As mentioned by Schub and Heering (2016), the nursing practice processes imply six basic standards that include assessment, diagnosis, identification of outcomes, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Thus, there is a clear sequence of procedures a nurse must follow for the effective provision of healthcare, which supports the argument that nursing is a science. Professional nurses regard care as the key element of their practice, and they focus on providing safe and high-quality nursing services with the help of analyzing the available evidence. The evidence is often used by nurses for making accurate judgments regarding a patient’s care and is supported by personal habits and intuition.
The combination of personal attributes such as good faith and evidence-based aspects of the profession is what ensures the preservation of the balance between the orientation on clinical procedures and the orientation on medical research. Evidence-based practice in the context of nursing implies the implementation of specific healthcare interventions for which empiric research found some support. Apart from this, nurses are involved in the ongoing process of studying care theories and case studies for determining how a positive health outcome can be achieved. Therefore, however, compassionate and respectful a nursing professional may be, without scientific knowledge, the provision of high-quality health care will be impossible to achieve.
Nursing as an Art
According to the American Nurses Association (2015), caring is the center of the nursing practice. While the evidence-based practice has been established as one of the key components of such care, providing patients with moral support and showing respect for their values and needs can be considered another contributor that should not be replaced or disregarded. The art of nursing may be present in each person planning to enter the profession since the inner capacity to provide a response to the needs of others can already be considered as art.
Since nurses perform relational work every day, they should be motivated to upkeep their passion to proceed with their practice and offer ethical care. Most importantly, a nurse must master the art of communication since apart from caring for patients independently, he or she should be able to collaborate with others and facilitate teamwork. To achieve positive health outcomes for patients in need, a nurse has to do anything in his or her capabilities. In this case, mere knowledge of scientific phenomena and processes is not enough. Compassionate care and respect to patients are those components of ‘nursing as art’ that should never be disregarded, even in the most complicated situations. As mentioned by Curtis (2015), in her qualitative study, compassion is an essential component of high-quality health care and must be conveyed by medical professionals in their practice. Despite the fact that researchers found the connection between compassion and fatigue of medical professionals, it is important to recognize that it takes more than scientific knowledge to have compassion for others while implementing specific healthcare interventions.
Nursing as Both
According to the findings of the qualitative research conducted by Duran and Cetinkaya-Uslusoy (2015), nursing education should not focus on a specific approach and must be restructured in such a manner that involves an establishment of a balance between nursing as art and science. The author also underlined that the incorporation of art subjects such as music or literature might help nursing students to better understand human emotions within the context of medical practice. When it comes to nursing as both art and science, it implies three basic aspects such as interaction, the usage of professional knowledge, and professional values. This means that the mere knowledge of medical concepts and the ability to perform necessary procedures is not enough for being a successful nursing practitioner.
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Nurses that do not or rarely exhibit the characteristics of ‘nursing as art’ are prone to having ineffective interactions with patients, while those only focusing on communication and support will not be able to offer healthcare services of the highest level. Therefore, balance is key to nursing practice regardless of the level of experience since those professionals that have been working for a long time forget about the importance of communication and only focus on the provision of medical care. On the contrary, ‘new’ nurses that are only starting their career in the medical profession care too much about communicating with patients and are too disorganized to combine science and art.
It has become quite clear that a professional nurse should have access to all components of the science of nursing. However, it is crucial to recognize the art of nursing as another key aspect of quality health care. Until it is so, nurses will just be good technicians with extensive knowledge about medical practice. The abundance of knowledge will not make a good nurse that can effectively communicate with patients and show compassion. While some may contest that the art of nursing should be elevated over science for achieving compassionate care, they disregard the importance of having scientific knowledge and experience for administering high-quality care. A balance should be found between science and art the same way balance should be found between anything in life. Therefore, the question of whether nursing is an art or science can be answered simply: it’s both.
American Nurses Association. (2015). Nursing: Scope and standards of practice (3rd ed.). Silver Springs, MD: American Nurses Association.
Curtis, K. (2015). Compassion is an essential component of good nursing care and can be conveyed through the smallest actions. Evidence Based Nursing, 18(3), 95.
Duran, E., & Cetinkaya-Uslusoy, E. (2015). Opinions of nursing students on the art of nursing: A qualitative study. International Journal of Caring Sciences, 8(2), 308-316.
Schub, E., & Heering, H. (2016). Clinical competencies: Assessing. Glendale, CA: Cinahl Information Systems.
Shahriari, M., Mohammadi, E., & Bahrami, M. (2013). Nursing ethical values and definitions: A literature review. International Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 18(1), 1-8.