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‘The good nurse’: visions and values in images of the nurse


  • Gerard M. Fealy BNS MEd PhD RGN RPN RNT

    1. Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
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Gerard Fealy,
School of Nursing and Midwifery,
University College Dublin,


Background.  The various ways in which the nurse has been publicly portrayed do not merely reflect the value of nursing in society, but also define the boundaries of nursing, and reveal the ideologies and systems of power-brokerage at work in shaping nursing. Therefore, it is of profound interest to the profession to continue to examine the ways in which the nurse is and has been portrayed.

Aim.  This paper aims to present a historical analysis of the image of the nurse in public discourses in Ireland.

Methods.  Using a framework of critical discourse analysis within the method of historical research, the paper draws on documentary primary sources to present an analysis of discourse concerning the ‘good nurse’.

Findings.  In exposing the diverse ways in which the nurse has been depicted in Irish public discourses, the origins of the ‘good nurse’ ideal are identified, the reasons for its continued promotion are critically examined, and the effects of the ideal on the development of nursing in Ireland are considered.

Conclusions.  While the ways in which Irish nurses have been depicted in public discourses have similarities with international nursing imagery, the ‘good nurse’ ideal has a uniquely Irish expression, indicating that the image of the nurse is both culture-specific and changes to reflect the underlying sociocultural context, and prevailing system of political power and influence.