A participant observation study of power relations between nurses and doctors in a general hospital


  • Sam Porter RGN DipN BSSc

    1. Postgraduate Research Student, The Department of Social Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast, 24 College Green, Belfast BT7 1LN, Northern Ireland
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The problem addressed in this paper is how nurse-doctor power relations are manifested in a hospital setting A review of the literature identified four major ideal types of interaction between nurses and doctors in decision-making processes These were unproblematic subordination, informal covert decision making, informal overt decision making and formal overt decision making on the part of nurses Each of these types was tested against empirical data gained from participant observation of interactions between the nurses and doctors working in an intensive care unit and a general medical ward It was concluded that while both the unproblematic subordination and the informal covert decision-making types of interaction appeared superficially to be used frequently, closer examination revealed that, with the exception of nurse-consultant interactions, nurses were less dependent on these subordinate modes of interaction than much of the literature suggested Formal overt decision making, despite official encouragement, was also infrequently utilized However, it was noticed that senior nurses especially used informal overt strategies to involve themselves in decision-making sequences Use of such strategies had the effect of reducing though not eliminating the power differential between doctors and nurses