Hargreaves, Janet (2005) The Good Nurse: Discourse and power in nursing and nurse education 1945 -1955. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Nursing and nurse education within Britain are influenced by the legacy of the development of hospital based adult general nursing in the 19th Century. Discourses that emerged at that time identify nurses as ‘good women’: respectable, hardworking, loyal and obedient. Currently, nurse education is criticised for being less able to produce nurses who are fit to undertake their role than in the past.

Taking the concept that discourse exerts a powerful influence on the way people behave, this thesis asserts that the 19th Century legacy is important and seeks to establish the discourses that shaped nurse education. The period 1945 -1955 is chosen as sufficiently distanced from early developments, but recent enough to be in living memory and prior to the relocation of British nursing from a hospital base into Higher Education.

Six overlapping discourses are identified though the literature. An interpretative approach is then taken to data collected in three stages: a life story 1932 -1973, semi-structured interviews with nurses who commenced their training 1945 -55 and documentary analysis of nursing journals for the same period.

The ‘good nurse’ is explored through discourses around the ‘right kind of girl’, the tension between vocation and profession and the transition from woman to nurse. Despite significant change of direction in educational theory and policy in the period 1945 -55 the thesis suggests that the power of the discourse meant that little changed in the practice of nursing or the conduct of nurse education.

Furthermore, it is argued that whilst discourses have changed and contemporary nursing is establishing its place in Higher Education as an applied academic discipline, the current discourses embracing caring, reflection and emotional labour are equally gendered and controlling. Now, as then, this discourse is not imposed by outside forces, but is generated and controlled from within the profession.

It therefore concludes that the pervasive influence of discourses surrounding the ‘good nurse’ and related discourses about control and care must be given full recognition when attempting to change nursing or to influence its policy and educational developments.

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