The question of whether nursing is an art, a science, or both is not easy to answer. In this work, I have examined each of these versions to find what arguments can be found to support them. I have identified factors that evidence that nursing is a science, as well as have found arguments that support the notion that nursing is an art. Then, I have analyzed the reasons for which nursing should be considered the union of art and a science and concluded that the combination of both defines nursing fully and accurately.
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Nursing as a Science
Suppose that nursing is considered a science. If this statement is true, then substantial evidence can be drawn to support it. The following facts point that nursing is considered a science.
First, being a nurse requires special education. Not only do nurses receive standard education at an institution, but they also are lifelong learners, learning from evidence, clinical practice, and each other. Surely, studying the experience of others and receiving a formal education is normal for artists. However, one can be an artist without any education, but one would not be allowed to become a nurse with no diploma, similar to the situation with the professionals in other sciences (Daly, Speedy, & Jackson, 2014, p. 47).
From here arises the second reason, for which nursing is a science: authority. In nursing, educational institutions, and organizations such as the American Nurses Association possess universally acknowledged authority. They can make recommendations and develop guidelines for nurses. In a broader sense, authority in nursing is the scientific authority. An artist does not have to explain why they select a particular color for a painting, but a nurse has to support the choice of a care practice with evidence to gain authority.
Third, nursing has such features of science as the use of observation for learning, collecting knowledge, and using experimental results for fulfilling its purposes (Norman & Ryrie, 2013, p. xviii). Observation is a significant concept for science. Learning from observation and performing experiments to test hypotheses and answer questions are key scientific methods. Producing knowledge, collecting and evaluating it, and performing a periodic reassessment of the gathered knowledge are the main characteristics of true science.
Fourth, in addition to being interested in a particular individual result, nursing is focused on making predictions and generalizations (Smith, Turkel, & Wolf, 2012, p. 252). Having collected knowledge and evidence from a variety of individual cases, nursing works out specific solutions and makes predictions on what may happen in the next particular case. Nursing uses the pool of knowledge to make general conclusions, such as “culturally competent care is beneficial for nursing outcomes,” which is exactly what science does.
Fifth, rather than existing for pleasure, expressing ideas, and drawing attention to some issues, which is typical for art, nursing is aimed at solving precise problems. The reason, for which nursing exists, is that people need professional care to recover from diseases. Unlike an artist, a nurse cannot define what nursing is for. While different artists can choose different purposes of their art, different nurses cannot do so: the only purpose of their work is to help a patient recover. Therefore, nursing is considered a science.
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Nursing as an Art
However, some aspects of how nursing is perceived suggest that nursing is considered an art. The following aspects can be mentioned.
First, many thinkers believe that being a nurse requires innate qualities, as does being an artist (Daly et al., 2014, p. 46-47). Such capabilities as the ability to sense a person’s mood, compassion, patience, the talent of finding the right approach to each patient, the ability to convince people to act in a particular way are innate, even though they can be trained and developed. Similarly, the ability to sing or draw can be trained by special education, but one cannot sing if they are not given the innate talent.
Second, it is well-established that nursing has to be culturally sensitive (Foronda, 2008). It is common for nurses to believe that culture has a profound impact on the identity and behavior of patients and that an approach to each patient has to be based on the knowledge of their culture; it is considered significant for the outcome of the treatment. Such a requirement makes nursing more similar to art than to science.
Third, nursing is believed to satisfy not only the physical but also the emotional and spiritual needs of the patients (Van Leeuwen, Tiesinga, Post, & Jochemsen, 2006). In nursing, it is believed that the connection between mind and body is strong enough to make the emotions and spiritual feelings of a patient affect their physical well-being. In mental care, emotions and spirituality are even more important. Emotions and spirituality are usually considered something that is connected with art rather than with science.
Fourth, being a nurse demands to have a serious level of creativity (Isfahani, Hosseini, Khoshknab, Peyrovi, & Khanke, 2015). Since it is established that nurses have to build a unique approach to each patient to achieve the necessary results, it has to follow from there that nurses should be creative. Being creative is the first step to being an artist.
Fifth, a nurse needs to be nonjudgmental. While science requires an expert to provide an impersonal judgment regarding the studied phenomenon, no such thing is required from an artist. In the same way, a nurse should not be judgmental towards a patient. Nurses should not demonstrate their approval or disapproval of the actions of their clients. They cannot be impersonal towards patients since the latter are not merely objects of scientific examination (Neeraja, 2008, p. 40). The mentioned facts make it obvious that nursing is considered an art.
Nursing as Both Art and Science
As it was stated above, the features that are considered integral parts of nursing may belong both to science and art. Requiring specific education, establishing a scientific authority, is based on observation, collecting knowledge, using experiments, making predictions and generalizations, and is aimed at problem-solving, nursing can be viewed as a science. Needing innate capabilities, being culturally sensitive, addressing spiritual and emotional needs, requiring creativity, and being non-judgmental make nursing an art. Therefore, all these features are believed to be important for nursing, and it is considered both art and science.
The professionals that address this issue claim that nursing combines the characteristics of art and science to respond better to its tasks. Thinkers express the following opinions regarding the reasons, for which nursing should be viewed as a combination of art and science.
First, nursing as a union of art and science allows nurses to address the duality of a human being. Humans can be considered both physical and mental beings (Smith et al., 2012, p. 252). The science in nursing examined the physical body of a person and explains how to treat its diseases. The art side helps a nurse to deal with human emotions, beliefs, intellect, and mood, which is important to make a client willing to recover and convince them to obey regulations.
Second, nursing as a combination of art and science helps nurses to unite the theoretical and empirical knowledge, evidence, and the ability to generalize and make predictions of science with the morality and pleasantness of an art (Norman & Ryrie, 2013, p. xviii). Thus, the union is beneficial for addressing all the needs of a single patient and making conclusions about clients’ needs in general.
Third, the scientific side of nursing helps to handle theoretical problems while the art side can guide the practice of care. Science lets a nurse know what is the nature of a patient’s disease, what treatment is commonly applied to such a disease, what were the results of this treatment in other patients. Art allows a nurse to adjust this scientific knowledge and apply them to a person with a particular mood, mindset, and cultural background (Daly et al., 2014, p. 46-47).
In the contemporary world, when healthcare is often commercialized and dehumanized, it is highly important to stress the qualities of nursing as an art and a science. Thus, it should be concluded that, in contemporary thought, nursing is considered both a science and an art. To be more precise, it unites the elements of art and science for the benefit of patients.
Having analyzed the features of nursing that characterize it as either a science or an art, I concluded that nursing is the union of both. Some thinkers who write about nursing share this view and consider that such a union allows nursing to address the needs of patients in the best way.
Daly, J., Speedy, S., & Jackson, D. (2014). Contexts of nursing. New York City, New York: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Foronda, S.L. (2008). A concept analysis of cultural sensitivity. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 19(3), 207-212.
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Isfahani, S.S., Hosseini, M.A., Khoshknab, M.F., Peyrovi, H., & Khanke, H.R. (2015). Nurses’ creativity: Advantage or disadvantage. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 17(2), n.p. doi: 10.5812/ircmj.20895.
Neeraja, K.P. (2008). Essentials of mental health and psychiatric nursing. New Delhi, India: Jaypee Brothers Publishers.
Norman, I. & Ryrie, I. (2013). The art and science of mental health nursing: Principles and practice: A textbook of principles and practice (3rd ed.). New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
Smith, M.C., Turkel, M.C. & Wolf, Z.R. (2012). Caring in nursing classics: An essential resource. New York City, New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Van Leeuwen, R., Tiesinga, L.J., Post, D., & Jochemsen, H. (2006). Spiritual care: implications for nurses’ professional responsibility. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 15(7), 875-884.