Nursing with power


When the scale is tipped in your favour, it’s easy to forget about the idea of power.

Think about nursing school. Your college and teachers had power over you. They had the power to pick you, mark you, and graduate you. They taught, you listened. You did the work you were told to do – or you were out. Most of us who succeeded in school responded well to that power, besides the stress that came with it.

That’s a bit different than how nursing unions and nursing professional associations market themselves. Most of them want to advocate for nurses. They want to be our voice, to take care of us. But do they give us powerI think you’ll find that most don’t.

And then there’s the type of power we have as nurses. We have more authority, influence, knowledge and access to information than clients do. We’re responsible for their outcomes and satisfaction. We have power over them. 

There’s a part in each of us that wants to be told what to do and to be cared for by others.

But this vulnerability isn’t sustainable when it comes to our health. The paternalistic attitude of “I’m the expert and you should listen to me” doesn’t work. And bullying tactics to gain power only lead to abuse.

Each of us has a choice to make about how to deal with the issue of power in our work. We can either choose to:

  1. Have power over people, or
  2. We can give people power

We tend to think nursing is about doing for. It’s not. Nursing is about empowering people to take responsibility for their health. The more people are involved in their care, the better off they are.

To overcome the inherent asymmetrical power in nursing, there are ways for us to give people more power. Instead of telling people what to do, we can partner with them – and let them make decisions.

How much time do you spend:

  • encouraging clients to independently take care of their health?
  • involving clients in planning their care?
  • understanding what clients actually need?

Preventable problems exist because of the imbalance of power in our culture.

Imagine what would happen if we were paid to help clients avoid needing us in hospitals, long-term care facilities and doctor’s offices? Or if nursing professional associations empowered nurses to speak for themselves?

Prioritizing someone else’s power is a different strategy for a different outcome.