Your level of professionalism as demonstrated by your behaviour and attitudes can be a deciding factor in whether you get that promotion or are passed over for someone else.
Nursing is a profession, but the individual nurse’s level of professionalism develops throughout her career. The professionalism of an individual can be seen on a sliding scale with the new recruit at the one end and the professional ideal on the other. Professional socialisation, through education and practice, begins when the student enters nursing school. The sliding scale also means that all nurses are not equally professionalised with very few, if any, reaching the ideal. The nurse develops professionally throughout her career as she increasingly adopts the professional culture, and demonstrates its norms and values in her daily attitudes, behaviours and practices – both at work and in the community.
What are the norms and values in nursing?
Any culture is made up of standards and values which are transmitted in various ways to socialise the child or the new colleague to a workplace or profession.
Core elements the professional behaviour and attitudes of the nurse are contained in nursing codes of ethics. To be able to apply these concepts in practice the statements should be analysed and discussed, and your practice continuously assessed against these guidelines.
How can I raise my level of professionalism?
By increasingly paying attention to the following eight elements relating to patient care, your development as well as your interaction with colleagues and within the community, you can raise your level of professionalism and your chances of career advancement.
1. Put caring first
Nursing came into being because of the need of human beings for care in times of need. Caring is the nurse’s unique function, and all other professional behaviours are in support this function. The majority of the provisions in the ethical code will be met if the nurse genuinely cares for each patient and accepts the patient as unique, respects his individual rights, and meets all his physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. This includes respect for dignity irrespective of nationality, race, creed, colour, age, sex, politics or social status.
2. Be professionally responsible and accountable
Nursing is a profession in its right and nurses no longer seen as subservient to the medical practitioner. She is an independent practitioner with the freedom to make nursing care decisions for her patients. In the interests of her patients she should analyse and question, use initiative and take decisions. She can lose her licence is she does not act responsibly and accountably regarding what she has been trained to do. For example, if she executes physician’s orders or prescriptions which she should know from her training to be incorrect instead of questioning them, she is also held professionally liable in the event of problems.
3. Be an advocate for your patient
While advocacy is a relatively new term in nursing, the concept was entrenched in Virginia Henderson’s definition of nursing: “the nurse assists the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities… which they would perform unaided if they had the necessary strength will or knowledge”. An advocate acts on behalf of the client and in this role, it is the nurse’s duty to help her client to obtain the health care and other assistance they require when they don’t have the knowledge or ability to act for themselves. Here the client can be an individual patient, family or community. Advocacy must however also be conducted in a professional way and according to acceptable standards.
4. Maintain a good relationship with co-workers
Only the best communication and co-operation between members of the health care team will ensure quality care for the client. The nurse often coordinates this communication as she is the one who spends the most time with the client. Any problems or disagreements which arise between the patient and other members of the team, or between members of the team, should be resolved in a professional manner and never in front of the patient.
5. Maintain patient confidentiality
Every nurse knows this basic human rights principle which is stressed in training and contained in all codes of nursing and medical ethics, and often in professional legislation as well. However, breaches of confidentiality happen daily, often unknowingly in casual conversation. If you listen to conversations between nurses during tea you will often hear discussions which could constitute a breach of confidentiality. There are times when personal information needs to be shared with other members of the team caring for the patient, and the codes of ethics make provision for this.
6. Develop and maintain professional standards
Only nurses can determine professional standards for nurses and nursing care. It is nurses’ responsibility to continually evaluate their own practice against the set standards. Because of commitment to quality patient care the nurse should also strive to continually raise those standards.
7. Maintain professional competence
The best quality of care for the patient is only possible if the nurse accepts responsibility for increasing her professional knowledge and keeping up to date with new developments. She should have an enquiring mind and learn all the time and not limit learning to that required for CPD points for registration. With all the information available on the web, there is no excuse for not reading up on a topic where you have discovered a gap in your knowledge.
The nurse who assigns tasks to other nurses remains ultimately responsible for the care which is provided to clients. It follows then that she also needs to teach subordinates to ensure that they are competent to perform their tasks correctly and according to the accepted standards.
8. Participate in professional affairs
Every nurse should be concerned about and active in promoting the profession and addressing current issues in nursing and health care. Professional groups, including nursing associations or societies representing different nursing specialties, are more successful than individuals in bringing about change through the voice of numbers. Becoming active in professional groups and sharing your expertise can add considerably to your professional development and recognition.