Background: The dominant image of nursing promotes individualized care based on emotional intimacy as the basis of its distinctive service contribution. However, the empirical basis for nursing’s claims about its function is weak.
Aim: The aim of this paper is to review a decade of observational studies as a starting point for understanding the actual content of nursing work.
Methods: The paper draws on a previously published interpretative review of field studies of nursing work published in the English language between 1993 and 2003.
Results: Eight bundles of activity are identified and described. These indicate that contrary to the profession’s claims, nursing work is not centred exclusively on individuals but is orientated to the effective functioning of healthcare systems.
Conclusions: The bundles of activity identified by the review provide the starting point for a research-based understanding of nursing work. This might enable a closer coupling of professional identities with service realities.