A phenomenological study of the practice of nursing art

Date of Completion

January 2000


Health Sciences, Nursing




Nurses use the phrase ‘the art of nursing’ to refer to elusive, human elements of practice. While there is only limited agreement on the precise nature of nursing art, there is abundant agreement that it exists in practice. The purpose of this study was to contribute to an understanding of the art of nursing by defining and focusing on the nurse's experience in achieving the object of nursing art. A review of philosophical literature in aesthetics added depth to the definition of nursing art and oriented construction of the research question, which was: What is the nurses' experience of helping patients find a new path in lives threatened by the disruption of illness? ^ Van Manen's phenomenological approach was used to guide this study. A total of 20 currently practicing registered nurses were interviewed for the study and the group represented a diverse range of educational backgrounds and practice settings. Nurses were recruited by a combination of purposive and snowball sampling. The request posed to participants was, “Tell me of your experience in helping a patient turn a comer in their illness and come to see their situation in a new way.” A highlighting approach to thematic analysis was used. ^ This research resulted in three sets of findings: (1) experiencing the turn, themes demonstrating the object of nursing art; (2) existential experience, the nurse's experience of space, time, body and human relations; (3) the narrative experience, which likened the nurse's experience of helping to narrative structure. Nursing art has been conceptualized as a transition that the nurse helps facilitate with a patient who has become “stuck” in some way. I have described how nurses found their way into such situations, understood what was salient, made interpretations about what was needed or possible, and then helped patients make transitions. In seeking to describe this aspect of practice, I have illustrated where nursing art can happen, as well as showed realized examples of it. By investigating nursing art, this study makes visible the experience of nurses and reflects on and claims this work as an essential part of professional practice. ^