Background. Empowerment has become an increasingly popular theme in nurse education. This is evident from the growing number of courses that claim to enable nurses to become empowered. However, this is taking place in an environment with little critical debate about the assumptions and implications for educators and students. Consequently there is a risk of creating hegemony and regimes of truth.
Aim. This paper sets out to review critically existing discourses on empowerment and to suggest a more reflexive and realistic view.
Themes. The origins of empowerment are established, together with its relationship to professional education. There is a review of the nature of power and autonomy, followed by an examination of the effects of expectations of empowering practice on educators and students. The lack of reflexivity in notions of empowerment is discussed. Consideration is given to the possibility of rehabilitating empowerment by offering an alternative conception that is realistic and reflexive.
Conclusions. Conclusions are drawn to suggest that although much of the writing on empowerment in education is insufficiently self-critical and consequently is open to censure, ideas of empowerment should not be rejected completely: they may serve to stimulate educators (and their students as future practitioners) to connect with and challenge society.