Seeing the big picture in nursing: a source of human and professional pride


  • Erik E. Sørensen,

    1. Erik E. Sørensen MScN PhD RN Postdoc Scientist Clinical Research Unit, Aalborg Hospital Science and Innovation Center, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Elisabeth O.C. Hall

    1. Elisabeth O.C. Hall MScN PhD RNT Professor Emeritus Department of Nursing Science, School of Public Health, Aarhus University, Denmark
    Search for more papers by this author

E.E. Sørensen: e-mail:


sørensen e.e. & hall e.o.c. (2011) Seeing the big picture in nursing: a source of human and professional pride. Journal of Advanced Nursing 67(9), 2284–2291.


Aim.  This article presents a discussion of the meaning of the phenomenon of seeing the big picture in nursing.

Background.  Seeing the big picture is a frequent expression among Danish nurses. It is used when trying to understand a situation in its wider context. However, it has a rather imprecise meaning that might lead to misunderstandings.

Data sources.  This paper draws on studies undertaken in the mid 1990s and the early 2000s, but with the current discussion developed in the context of contemporary nursing.

Discussion.  Seeing the big picture indicates a desire to do good for patients’ and staff. This desire expressed through saying ‘I need to see the big picture’ is discussed to be a backbone in nursing and nursing leadership and a source of human and professional pride. There is, however, a dilemma if nurses overlook needs of patients that require immediate actions and if a nurse leader does not intercept staff members in crisis. The pride is oscillating between seeing the here-and-now and seeing the long-term in the big picture.

Conclusion.  We assumed seeing the big picture had to do with practical knowledge. Wonder and reasoning, however, brought us to virtues. Seeing the big picture as mentioned among nursing leaders and clinical nurses demonstrates human and professional pride. The study is useful in organizational, clinical and educational settings in updating policies for nursing, enlarging nurses understanding of practice and training students in understanding nursing practice.