The Philosophy of Nursing Explained

Debra Riley


The philosophy of nursing – what does that even mean? You’ve heard the term being used I’m sure but have you ever considered what it means to you? I’m going to explain all … at least all that it means to me (and hopefully others) …

If you want to know more about the philosophy of nursing we need to first look at what it means and an Oxford definition states:

Philosophy is:

“the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.”

Well, that clears things up! The meaning of the word comes from the Greek words philo-meaning love and sophos-meaning wisdom.

For philosophy in nursing this can mean different things for different nurses and their roles within the profession. A nurse educator may have a different view and interpretation than a nurse practitioner working in family health.

the philosophy of nursing

The Role of Philosophy of Nursing

Why does this all really matter? Let’s have a look the role this can play:

Informs Core Content

By examining the concepts and nature of nursing we can have a better understanding of how we define, inform and explain nursing practice and inform others.

Clarification and Critiquing

This allows us the debate about assumptions in nursing practice and ethical and moral issues and how they inform how we practice. It also allows for changes to be made on how we can improve.

A Way of Life

Love of wisdom can be carried forward to everyday living and does not have to be confined to our role as nurses. We can think critically about our behavior and actions and make changes for the good of ourselves and others.

Nursing philosophy is a way of thinking about our attitudes, beliefs, desires and behaviors and how upon reflection we can make changes to have better outcomes for ourselves and others.

It is a conscious way of thinking about our practice and how we can affect others in relation to emotional, physical and mental well-being.

Although there is no one specific nursing philosophy each nurse or healthcare provider will have one that suits them and their needs and it will play a vital role in how they deliver care, even if they don’t define it as a philosophy.

nursing philosophy

The Importance of Philosophy

Many articles have been written about this topic and we have several quotes that call attention to the importance of philosophy of nursing.

McIntyre & McDonald state:

“Implementing practice concepts guided by explicit philosophical principles helps make sense of practice and how to articulate and critique it”

Cody states:

“Philosophy addresses human values and values, above all, guide practice”

Pesut & Johnson state:

“Philosophy is every nurse’s business”

Forss et al.state:

“Doing nursing, being a nurse, contains as much philosophical dimension as it does a practical one”

As you can see there is no definitive answer to what philosophy of nursing means, however it is a guiding principle in all we do and informs and changes our behavior, practice and care we deliver.

Nursing Philosophy Statement

While completing a degree program most nurses will have an opportunity to write their own statement allowing them to set out clearly their position on essential and key aspects of their care and practice.

They may incorporate aspects of their practice into this statement and use it as a guideline for how they wish to conduct themselves as professional nurses.

Areas they might incorporate or feature in the philosophy statement are:

Patient Care

This relates to how you see yourself as a nurse in relation to how you care for your patient and is an essential component of your statement.

You might be the nurse who wants to treat patients with care and compassion and so you would highlight this position as a value you hold by stating you feel a good bedside manner is a key element of your nursing philosophy.

On the other hand you may want to be professionally detached and would therefore highlight how you want to show a responsible and authorative manner.

Collaboration with Colleagues

This will set out how you want to work within a multi disciplinary team and the role you see yourself playing. Explain how you see yourself working in collaboration with different professionals and healthcare workers.

Do you see yourself as playing a central role or are you content to take the lead from those with more experience and knowledge. Your idea of how you will behave may change according to the situation and role you are in.

This part of the statement will clearly define how you will work in partnership with others while fulfilling your duties.

colleagues in nursing

Diagnosing and Treating Patients

This section of your nursing philosophy will set out clearly how you deal with diagnosing and treating patients. Unlike your philosophy for patient care this does not deal with individual patients and is more to do with how you carry out your practice.

You might have a very clinical approach to your practice and would therefore draw attention to this or you might have a more holistic approach and want to stress the importance you place on this in your statement.

In this section you should also highlight which reference guides and source materials you use in your nursing practice.

Professional Development

This final element sets out how you want to grow professionally as a nurse throughout your career by developing your knowledge and skills.

Many state licenses require a minimum requirement for continuing education credits which is a great way to keep updated on the latest developments in areas such as patient care, treatment, procedures and ethics.

Set out a clear pathway you hope to follow and indicate how you want your career to grow, you may have a plan to specialize in a certain field of practice and this is where your set these goals.

nursing development

Final Thoughts

By reading this article you can see there are two Philosophy of Nursing areas we have looked at, those pertaining to nursing in general and those for individual nurses. What’s your philosophy of nursing?

If you look at my article on Nursing Magazines you can find a range of journals and magazines that have continuing education credits which can help you keep updated on latest developments and keep the state licensing boards happy.

Don’t forget to have a good look at our nurse blog section – we cover all sorts of nurse related topics some for fun like Nursing Quotes or maybe The Patron Saint of Nursing and some a bit different like Nurse Symbols. We add new articles regularly so do come back …. thanks!