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Keywords:

  • record-keeping;
  • nursing process;
  • managerialism;
  • professionalism;
  • ethnography.

This paper examines general nurses’ views of the nursing record and its routine usage in contemporary hospital practice. It draws on ethnographic data generated on a surgical ward and a medical ward in a single District General Hospital in the United Kingdom (UK). A key research finding was ward nurses’ equivocal attitudes to the nursing record. On the one hand, because of its links with the nursing process, the nursing record was highly valued as a symbol of professionalism and ward staff were loathe to criticise it directly. On the other hand, however, the nurses in this study clearly found it difficult to reconcile their professional ideals with the ways in which the nursing record was routinely employed on the wards. In this paper it is suggested that at one level, nurses’ ambivalence towards the nursing record reflected the distortion of its founding philosophy by the new managerialism in the contemporary UK health care context. At another level, however, there are also difficulties which arise from the tension between the assumptions about the nature of nursing work which underpin the nursing record and the workplace reality on hospital wards.