Shifting roles in nursing – does role extension require role abdication?


Patricia Pearcey
Faculty of Health and Social Care
Aire Bldg. University of Hull Cottingham Road
Hull HU6 7RX
Telephone: 01482 464524


Aims and objectives.  To discuss findings relating to role extension and loss of nursing care to auxiliary nurses.

Background.  There is ongoing discussion in the literature about what nurses’ roles may be and how the extension of role affects patient care. Various models have been devised to measure outcomes and the value of nursing to patients. However, there are limited data on the views of nurses themselves in terms of what they perceive their role to be and what they feel about role change.

Design.  A qualitative approach was used with the help of the elements of grounded theory.

Methods.  Data were analysed using a constant comparative method with core categories identified. The study described in this paper was the final of three. The first two studies involved student nurses and through theoretical sampling, the third sample was chosen to expand the data gained from the students.

Results.  The findings from the student studies indicated concern that the nursing role was being undertaken by auxiliary nurses. The results of the final study, as discussed in this paper, confirmed this. However, one main difference was that qualified nurses were not necessarily unhappy about auxiliary nurses’ role expansion but were concerned that the role of the nurse was moving away from the bedside.

Conclusions.  The data suggest that nurses’ roles may be hard to define. An abdication of role, as opposed to delegation of role, seems to be occurring. Critical thinking is needed to ensure this is a decision advocated by clinical nurses.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses need to be explicit about what their clinical roles are. This study provides data expressing the views of clinical nurses about role expansion and role abdication and corresponding feelings about it.