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Making patients better: a qualitative descriptive study of registered nurses’ reasons for working in surgical areas


  • Carolyn Mackintosh BA, MSc, RGN, Pg Dip, PhD

    1. Senior Lecturer, Division of Nursing, University of Bradford, Unity Building, Trinity Road, Bradford, UK
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Carolyn Mackintosh
Division of Nursing
University of Bradford
Unity Building
Trinity Road
Bradford BD5 0BB
Telephone: +44 1274 236546


Aims.  To explore the reasons and motivation identified by qualified nurses for working within the surgical area.

Background.  Little is known about the career decisions qualified nurses make, although it is clear that some areas of practice are more popular than others. This qualitative descriptive study considers one common area, surgery, and explores the motivation for decisions made by Registered Nurses (RNs) to work in this area.

Method.  A sample of 16 RNs working within surgical areas participated in semi-structured interviews, using a thematic interview schedule. Findings were analysed using the framework suggested by Morse and Field.

Results.  Analysis of findings indicates that all participants actively chose to work within surgery and that this was because of the pace and turnover of surgical work, personal satisfaction at the recovery of patients; the close links between this type of work; and participants’ original aims when first entering nursing and participants’ preference of surgery to other areas of nursing work. Participants actively rejected working in areas where patients were likely to suffer from chronic long-term conditions where recovery was unlikely and felt that these areas were likely to be depressing and unrewarding.

Conclusion.  These findings suggest that participants actively chose to work with ‘healthy’ patients in preference to those who may be considered ‘ill’, and this is closely linked to the identified need of participants to be able to ‘make patients better’. Participants were reluctant to work in areas where they would be unlikely to achieve this aim.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The reluctance of surgical nurses to work with patients who were considered ‘ill’, in preference to ‘healthy’ patients must be acknowledged. Findings reflect different professional perspectives on the purpose of nursing work and suggest that qualified staff choose their clinical specialism based on their own personal sense of professional purpose, with consequent implications for both the recruitment and retention of qualified staff.