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Care must be viewed as the essence of nursing

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Without knowledge of the concept of caring and what it entails, it is difficult to be an effective nursing leader.

The phrase “nursing leadership” should convey a direct connection to the discipline of nursing. The focus of nursing leaders is to nurse. All the activities related to the role are ultimately centred on those being nursed. Nursing leaders must be able to articulate nursing’s unique role in the healthcare team. This calls for a substantive understanding of caring as the essence of nursing.

Caring is the core intention that directs all actions. Within the framework of caring, the nursing leader is responsible for rising to the challenges that make hearing the calls for nursing difficult, as well as securing the resources needed to truly nurse.

Caring-based nursing leadership calls for a commitment on the part of the nurse to know himself or herself as a caring person. Mayeroff (1971), a philosopher, offered a view of caring that takes it out of the emotive realm and moves towards an understanding of it as an expression of one’s humanness. He described the following concepts as expressions of caring: knowing, alternating rhythms, courage, patience, hope, honesty, trust and humility.

Appreciating how one lives courage, hope, patience and so on enhances the knowing of self and others as caring. Caring-based nursing leadership sees all people as living the concept of caring uniquely. It is grounded in a desire to know others as caring and to create, maintain and support an environment for practice in which calls for nursing can be heard and nurturing responses supported.

Dr Anne Boykin is dean and professor emeritus at Florida Atlantic University. She is recognised both internationally and nationally for her scholarship on caring. She has also co-authored and edited several books, book chapters and articles that are focused on caring, spirituality, nursing as a discipline and story as a method for studying nursing.

Strategies for caring-based nursing leadership

Recognise the self as a caring person and the daily chance to model the living of caring by living trust, hope, knowing, and so on.

  • Commit to know others in the organisation as caring
  • Co-create a culture for nursing practice grounded in caring values
  • Acknowledge the unique gifts each person brings to nursing
  • Ask nurses to recall, reflect on and share stories of when caring was lived. They keep leaders connected to the person being nursed and help people recognise the resources needed
  • Share stories that reflect caring in nursing with others in the organisation
  • Develop a model for practice that clarifies nursing’s values and focus
  • Support the development of knowledge and expertise by sharing literature on caring with staff. Provide time for reflection and dialogue
  • Live humbly by recognising there is always more to know
  • Live courage by taking risks and giving up the “traditional” way of being in organisations


Mayeroff M (1971) On Caring. New York: Harper and Row.

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