Human Flourishing: A Nursing Ethic

Posted on November 18, 2013 by


Our current featured article in ANS is titled “An Innovative Professional Practice Model: Adaptation of Carper’s Patterns of Knowing, Patterns of Research, and Aristotle’s Intellectual Virtues.”  The author, nurse ethicist Barbara Bennett Jacobs, MPH, PhD, RN, translates an adaptation of Carper’s patterns of knowing into a nursing metalanguage of science, ethics, art, and advocacy.  Dr. Jacobs shared this commentary on her work that gave rise to this article:


Dr. Barbara Jacobs

The phrase “change is constant” is being used now by hospital administrators to partially explain the restructuring of departments and services that is often accompanied by acquisitions of smaller and/or regional hospitals into large corporations.  These changes in health care delivery systems are not limited to hospitals, as these corporations include, for example, agencies and services that provide home-care, out-patient services, emergency medical services and other community health care enterprises.  As the template changes, so does the status quo.  This ought to empower nurses to evaluate the status quo and suggest changes within the nursing profession for a number of reasons.  The one most obvious reason is, as Dr. Kagan opines in her guest editorial, – “to make things better.”  Better patient outcomes, better patient health, better prevention strategies, better human flourishing.

Without an underpinning in nursing knowledge, nurses will be ill-equipped to ask critical questions, to analyze the status quo, or through a process of praxis change those practices and structures that are unjust or inequitable in their practice environments.  The ethos of nursing is a strong one and ought to be visible, evident, and valued and unique from the institution’s ethos.  In order to accomplish this in the rapidly changing health care environments, imagination and innovation have the potential to make a difference.  Unfortunately, “change is not constant” in nursing education and practice to the degree it is in other realms of health care.   Take for example electronic charting – a wave of tsunami proportions.  As nurses now are more tethered to the i patient (a phrase coined by Dr. Abraham Verghese to describe the patient as data points) they are less available to move in the patient’s landscape with hopes of performing acts of aesthetic quality or to engage in such a way that is personal, intersubjective and meaningful to the patient.  Yet the technology prevails with support from some nurses, but others lament their loss of time to “be with” patients.  The question to ask is whether some innovation like electronic charting is in harmony with the voice of nursing, the ethos of nursing, and the philosophy of nursing or is it another institutional innovation that requires acquiescence and submission by the nursing population with minor input.

Thirty years ago Carper gave us an understanding of what nurses need to know to do what they need to do that is recognizable, valued, and defined as knowing that can be expressed as knowledge.  The professional practice model concept is fertile territory for planting these patterns of knowing along with other important concepts such as values, virtues, and research in such a way that the model enhances its applicability, adaptability, and usefulness to achieve the telos of nursing.  Professional practice models benefit the institution for sure but the real benefit, the real truth, the real reason to have them is to join in solidarity with those persons, families, and communities who call on nurses to answer the moral call to enhance their threatened human flourishing.

The model presented in this paper has been revised, revised, and revised again so as to reflect the thousands of patient narratives I have been blessed to experience.  The two patients in the paper are real, both having a profound impact on my current role as a nurse ethicist.  Both patients were not only medically complex requiring empiric knowing, both where vulnerable to threats to their self-determination requiring ethical knowing, both ached for meaningful personal encounters with their nurses requiring aesthetic knowing, and both changed (as did the nurses who cared for them) requiring personal knowing as a result of the covenantal relationship.  This model may not appeal to every nurse but the hope is that it will generate dialogue, reflection, and controversy.

Please consider entering in to dialogue here!  Download your copy of this article now while it is featured, and come back here to share your thoughts, challenges and questions!