I find the art of nursing hard to define

The nurse’s art is a subtle one, says Jane Bates.

The nurse’s art is a subtle one, says Jane Bates

‘What I do,’ said an artist friend, ‘is walk away from my picture for a while, then come back and turn it sideways and upside down. Then I get a different perspective.’

If only we could do that with our patients, I thought. ‘Mrs Bloggs, just do a quick handstand for me, will you?’ Seeing her a different way up might help us to deal with whatever is ailing her. Although you might argue that if Mrs Bloggs is fit enough to do a handstand, she does not need medical attention.

This talk about art made me ponder again the so-called art of nursing. Most definitions I can find are either hopelessly vague, or so convoluted that they make your brain ache. Trying to explain it seems as tricky as pinning jelly to a noticeboard, yet we know that the concept exists – we exercise it every day.

Florence, as ever, clarifies the subject. ‘Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion, as hard a preparation as any painter’s or sculptor’s work. For what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit? It is one of the fine arts: I almost said, the finest of fine arts.’

I guess in the end it is the creative application of knowledge, in the light of our own experience and instinct, on to the complex entity that is the human being, and doing this without prejudice and with, dare one say, love. Does anyone outside the nursing profession appreciate that? I doubt it, because it is so understated, and its application so delicate.

These are hard times for nurses – we are being squeezed until the pips squeak. In this tick-box culture that is the modern NHS, there is little time to stand back to consider and gain perspective. But the subtleties of a great work of art are what make it a masterpiece.

About the author

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

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