The paper has three aims: to illustrate ways in which sociology may help nurses to achieve their primary objective: good patient care; to show how nursing can contribute to sociology; and to indicate some conditions for a healthy relationship between the two activities.
After a brief discussion of the nature of sociology, intended for non-sociologists, four examples of ways in which sociology may be relevant to nursing are discussed: (i) Imphcations for nursing of changing patterns of disease, dependency and death; (ii) Social and cultural variations in perceptions of, and responses to, pain and disease; (iii) Organizational analyses, with particular reference to the importance of nurse-patient communication; (iv) Sociological studies of inter-personal relationships, illustrated by a study of student nurse training.
Nursing is described as the major caring profession; as such it has inherent interest for sociologists interested in health care. However, its sociological interest is enhanced by the fact that it is permeated by paradoxes. Reference is also made to current debate on the most appropriate model for health care: the traditional medical model places relatively greater emphasis on cure than does nursing, with its relatively greater involvement with care. It is suggested that current patterns of disease and dependency increase the importance of the care model, and that nursing could play a crucial role in such a shift of emphasis.
Having shown that sociology can make positive contributions to nursing, attention is drawn to certain dangers. Nursing should thus make sure that the sociology which it welcomes into its domain is academically sound, and not ideology in disguise. It is also suggested that nursing education should encourage more critical thinking, to enliven nurses' appreciation of what sociology has to offer, and to improve their ability to evaluate the quality of health care.