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The American Nurse’s Association’s Nursing’s Social Policy Statement (2003) defines nursing as the “protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and population” (p. 6). Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary (2012) defines philosophy as “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.

” It follows then that a philosophy of nursing is the set of beliefs, concepts and attitudes that guides the promotion, protection, and restoration of health and abilities of individuals and groups of individuals. Traditionally, nursing philosophy is described using a meta-paradigm of four concepts – human being or person, environment, health, and nursing. Beliefs and attitudes about these guiding concepts are widely shared, but also deeply influenced by the personal experiences and values of the individual nurse.

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The Human Being Human beings are highly evolved and exquisitely complex systems. They involve not only an outwardly obvious physical form, the body, but also the mind and spirit, less clearly defined subjects. Body, mind, and spirit can theoretically be separated into parts, and each of those parts further separated for the purposes of study or description, yet they are intimately connected for all practical purposes. The interplay between the three is constant, and what affects one, affects the others.

Just as each individual person has theoretically separate components, all humans though separate individuals are likewise connected into a unified whole otherwise known as humanity. Recent research in genetics has shown us that any given individual is 99. 9% genetically identical to any other A PHILOSOPHY OF NURSING 3 (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2012, p. 243). The tiny fractions of genetic variance as well as unique environmental influences are what separate us from each other into distinct persons.

From conception in the womb throughout the remainder of life, those influences continue to act on the development of a person’s body, mind, and spirit. The human being then is a unique combination of genetics, environment, and experiences that is never static, but constantly changing. Environment Beliefs and attitudes about life and health are influenced by upbringing, by communities, and by cultures as well as the physical environment in which a person lives.

Environment is a set of circumstances that act on a person to create a unique expression of humanity that cannot ever be exactly replicated. In her Notes on Nursing, What It is and What It is Not (1898), Florence Nightingale’s ideas about the physical environment and its impacts on health included such forward thinking concepts as the significance of color, music, and sunlight on healing. These ideas are still being researched today to find scientific evidence for something Nightingale seemed to intuitively understand.

Nightingale further described the functions of a nurse to include “the proper use of fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet, and the proper selection and administration of diet” (1898, p. 3). It can be argued that Nightingale’s observations about the importance of environment on health and healing laid the foundation for modern nursing practice. Health According to the World Health Organization (2003), health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

” It is the natural state that a person seeks to maintain or recover throughout the lifespan in order to recognize their unique A PHILOSOPHY OF NURSING 4 potential to influence the world in which they live. Health is affected both positively and negatively by behaviors, attitudes, relationships, and the environment, among other things. Nursing In relation to the previous three concepts, nursing then is a complex collection of actions that is based on an in depth understanding of the human body, mind and spirit (person), and its reaction to certain stressors (environment).

Nursing seeks to maintain or restore the natural state of humanity (health). Scientific knowledge is the basis for nursing but it is not the sole component. Nursing practice involves much more nuanced ideas such as caring, compassion, and empathy which cannot readily be described in scientific terms. Caring is widely understood to be one of the conceptual bases of nursing that distinguishes it from other professions (Blais & Hayes, 2011, p. 107). Empathy is a complex concept that includes the ability to see life from another’s perspective.

Philosopher Edith Stein believed that in order to empathize with another human being, one has to actively listen to and observe another person, and from close observation one can experience a moment as if the other being’s state of mind were one’s own; the individual can then return to their own state of mind with a greater understanding of the other person and of humanity as whole (as cited in Maatta, 2006, p. 5). From empathetic understanding, compassion develops – having experienced a moment of shared consciousness even without having lived the actual experiences of the other person, a desire to alleviate the other’s suffering develops.

Empathy also gives rise to the ability to translate the nurse’s refined knowledge about the human body, environment, and health in a way that is more readily understood by the patient. A PHILOSOPHY OF NURSING 5 Summary The practice of nursing has evolved from the simpler purpose of putting “the constitution in such a state as that it will have no disease, or that it can recover from a disease” (Nightingale, 1898, p. 1) into a much broader enterprise that places equal importance on such abstract concepts as caring, empathy, and compassion to achieve its overarching goal of health for humanity as a whole.

Based on these concepts, nurses practice their art. A PHILOSOPHY OF NURSING 6 References American Nurses Association. (2003). Nursing’s social policy statement. (2nd ed. ). Silver Spring, MD: The Publishing Program of ANA. Blais, K. & Hayes, J. (2011). Professional nursing practice: Concepts and perspectives. (6th ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Maatta, S. M. (2006). Closeness and distance in the nurse-patient relation: The relevance of Edith Stein’s concept of empathy. Nursing Philosophy, 7, 3-10. Nightingale, F. (1898). Notes on nursing: What it is and what it is not.

New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company. Retrieved from http://www. gutenberg. org/catalog/world/readfile? fk_files=1484835 Philosophy. (n. d. ). In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. Retrieved from http://www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/philosophy. Stanhope, M. & Lancaster, J. (2012). Public health nursing: Population centered health care in the community. (8th ed. ). Maryland Heights, MO: Elsevier. World Health Organization. (April 7, 1948). What is the WHO definition of health? Retrieved from http://www. who. int/suggestions/faq/en/index. html.

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