Teaching sociology to nurses has become a significant issue within health sociology, reflected in the workshop, Teaching sociology to healthcare professionals in training, at the British Sociological Association's Medical Sociology Conference in York, 2001. The new nursing curriculum acknowledges the need for the twenty-first century nurse to utilise knowledge from a range of disciplines when assessing patients/clients and deciding on an approach to care. Nursing is no longer (if it ever was) the sum of its tasks - or what nurses 'do' - but has become a complex set of relationships. Society has changed since the inception of the NHS, deference towards health professionals has lessened and individuals are more willing to challenge 'experts'. Professional boundaries are also becoming less rigid, and many client groups are demanding a more active part in decision-making. The NHS itself has seen many re-organisations and nurses, along with other health care workers, have had to adapt to changing structures and ideologies of health care.
The impact of these changes has been immense and many nurses have found themselves at a loss in knowing how to prepare themselves for the new demands made of them. There are probably few nurses who would turn to sociology to provide any of the answers, as it is frequently perceived to be not of direct relevance.
The Sociology for Nurses
'The case for'
Cooke's (1993) seminal paper, 'Why teach Sociology?' acknowledges the fact that sociology had traditionally been rather marginalized within nursing and nursing curricula, and that in part this could be explained by the ambivalence and at times negativity of many nurse educationalists towards the subject. This in turn was a product of the hegemony of the biomedical model within nursing which she claims sits rather uncomfortably with a 'socio- logical imagination' (Wright Mills 1970). A lack of familiarity with, and commitment to, critical and theoretical reflection on the part of nursing, combined with a largely individualistic frame of reference, militated against the utilization of sociology within the nursing arena.
The adoption of the holistic, or often termed 'bio- psycho-social' model, marked a philosophical and practical shift in nursing away from a stress on hygiene towards a humanistic concern with communication. This conceptual shift was central to the project of professionalisation in which nursing was engaged. Sociology became seen in this context as central to the 'humanization' of nursing care, enabling the ...