• holistic care;
  • professional development;
  • phenomenological hermeneutics;
  • personal attributes;
  • self-esteem;
  • nurses

Background.  The work context is important for the development of Registered Nurses’ skills and identity as professionals, but the work context and organization can also hinder their professional development.

Aim.  This paper reports a study whose purpose was to understand the meaning of Registered Nurses’ narratives of their work experience 5 years after graduation.

Research method.  Data were collected in 2001 from interviews with 16 Registered Nurses 5 years after graduation and analysed using a phenomenological hermeneutic method, influenced by the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur.

Results.  Analyses of the narratives resulted in three themes: ‘The meaning of caring and protection of patients’, ‘The meaning of work organization in nurses’ work’ and ‘The implied meaning of using one's individual attributes in one's professional role’. Since the number of nurses participating in the study is small, it is important to re-contextualize the results when transferring them to other contexts.

Conclusions.  There is a complex interrelationship between the health care organization, individual attributes of nurses (including self-esteem) and patient care. Provision of adequate resources and support for nurses’ professional and personal development is needed to ensure high quality patient care, and these are political issues.