Our latest featured article is titled “Social Capital: A Concept Analysis” authored by Kristi K. Westphaln, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC; Eileen K. Fry-Bowers, PhD, JD, RN, CPNP, FAAN; and Jane M. Georges, PhD, RN. I join the authors to invite you to download this article while it is featured, and return here to share your comments. This is a message from Dr. Westphain giving background about this work:
Social capital is broadly defined as the resources obtained via social membership and engagement. I first encountered it in the “life lab” during a health care mission in Tachloban City in the Philippines, where I helped care for survivors of Hurricane Yolanda. This was my first experience with international disaster relief and I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of how the people were coping with such devastating losses. I became friends with a young woman who shared her story of how three tsunami waves unexpectedly swept her out of her home. She told me that the tsunami scene from “The Impossible” was authentic. And, how she was the only person in her family to survive. Another young man recalled how he had to cling to a pole for 4 hours to prevent being washed away by the storm; he vividly remembered bodies floating by as he held on for his life. Almost everyone I met had lost homes, beloved family members, and/or friends to the storm. Despite this, people didn’t want to solely talk about the trauma they experienced. Many of their narratives were centered within the context of how their community came together to take care of each other. They found homes for the homeless, cleaned the debris, attended church, and found ways to make each other laugh. It seemed to extend beyond resilience or coping.
This concept analysis emerged from a desire to better understand how membership and interactions within social networks foster individual and collective capacity. Some of the shared themes across the literature on social capital from multiple disciplines include a socioecological perspective (most frequently at the community level), an asset-based philosophy, structural and functional dimensions, and benefits/rewards for membership and participation within social networks. Given that nurses frequently interact on the front lines of patient care while also navigating the complex connections among individuals, families, and the health care system; this manuscript focuses on the definition and uses of social capital within the discipline of nursing.
The operational definition derived from this analysis was consistent with definitions used within the literature from multiple other disciplines. Dissimilar to the literature from other disciplines, the most common themes at the intersection of social capital and nursing were the nursing workforce and workplace (hospital settings) rather than involving patient- or community-oriented applications. I’m optimistic for further investigation on how nursing and social capital contribute to optimizing public health. Relational aspects of health are often difficult to articulate and measure, however they represent important foundations for growth, development, and sustainability from individual people to entire populations.