In industrialized countries like our own more and more people depend on nursing care for their very lives. Aging populations live longer with more chronic conditions – and depend on nursing care. So do younger people who have accidents or suffer from genetic or congenital disorders and who depend on nursing care for long periods during their lives. Yet not enough members of the public understand this simple fact. Poll after poll shows that the public trusts nurses but very few members of the public really understand what nurses do. They do not understand that when nurses practice whether at the bedside or anywhere else it is their minds not just their hearts that are at work. This lecture will explore why people trust nurses without understanding what nurses really do and how nurses themselves exacerbate public misunderstanding of nursing by focusing almost exclusively on the heart work of nurses not on the brain work. This is particularly important when it comes to helping the public that nurses are guided by science and nursing research not by female hormones or unskilled intuition.
This lecture will look briefly at the history of nursing in religious orders and how the religious emphasis on saying little and doing much has shaped nurses ability to explain their work to a broad public. It will look at the contemporary symbols and language nurses all across the globe use to explain their work and analyze with this focus on hearts and angels trivializes nurses skill and knowledge. It will finally suggest how nurses can better help explain their work to the public by articulating the knowledge and skill that goes into even the smallest -- and seemingly trivial --of nursing activities. It will end by helping nurses to move beyond silence to a voice that helps us all understand the critical nature of nursing work.