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The Emotional Labour of Nursing Revisited: Can Nurses Still Care?

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Title: The Emotional Labour of Nursing Revisited: Can Nurses Still Care? (second edition)

Author: Pam Smith

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Reviewer: Jane Brocksom, urology & continence nurse specialist. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.


What was it like?

Old? Realising I read this book in 1992 on its first outing. How nursing life, society and fundamentally and how people have changed in the last 20 years. Revisiting, comparing and contrasting the 1980’s to the 2010’s – is it necessary? I am a history lover and enjoy reading about our nursing past – those “softer” aspects, the “basic care” and “women’s work” but hey it’s dated, we need to move onwards and upwards, lets learn and reflect and help use the past to add our voice to the future of the profession. In the foreword by Hochschild (American Sociologist who coined the term “emotional labour”) I read “at its most profound level, this book is a call to the better angels of modern society” (p.xv). Oh dear! I hate being called an angel. I could have put the book down forever.

But it got better on the same page “joining in the dance of humanity” (Bev Taylor, Australian Professor of Nursing, studied “ordinariness” within nursing). As nurses, we are in a unique position and have front row seats to watch the dance of humanity. Unfortunately as a profession, we fail to articulate this, to find the language and vocabulary to articulate the therapeutic power of caring has eluded most.

What were the highlights? 

This book has many, it does at times feel dated and too long, but it has an important message to pass on – emotional labour takes its toll, while a focus on budgets is applauded, we cannot cost emotional care, increasing workloads leave us with little time for anything but meeting patients physical and technical needs. This alone is a route to nurses leaving the profession or facing low morale and well being. If we want nurses to remain, then hospitals/organisations have to appreciate the importance of caring for the carer – what is good for nurses is good for patients.

Strengths & weaknesses:

The introduction alone is 27 pages long, at times it is uncomfortable and difficult reading but thought provoking and necessary. The list of contents is exhaustive; each chapter is broken down into short sub sections, with a summary at the end of each. The book has a comprehensive notes and references section. Not sure all readers would read chronologically but may just dip in and out.

Who should read it?

I was wondering over the first 30pages whether I would make it to the end. I am glad I did. The introduction and conclusion contains some valid and interesting points. I implore anyone to read these two chapters. Smith raises some salient points regarding how we teach and support nurses, the importance ward structures and supportive environments play in encouraging out workforce. I suspect we are still just touching the surface when it comes to recognising the effects of emotional care on patient outcomes.

As Smith concludes “nurses can still care but it requires effort, skill and organisational support’”.


The Emotional Labour of Nursing Revisited: Can Nurses Still Care?


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