Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Arts-Based Inquiry in Nursing Education

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Arts-Based Inquiry in Nursing Education

Article excerpt

The nature, position, knowledge and value(s) of nursing in healthcare and academic environments have been highly contested areas in recent times (Evans & Donnelly, 2006; Girot, 2000; Thomas & Davies, 2005). Much debate is occurring in contemporary nursing research, education and practice as traditional ideologies and taken for granted knowledge interacts with post modernism (Bradbury-Jones, Sambrook, & Irvine, 2008), feminism (Anderson, 2002), consumerism (Cutcliffe & Yarbrough, 2007), multiculturalism (Allen, 2006) and medical/ information technology (Sensmeier, 2008). In this period of rapid social and economic change, different and often conflicting imperatives come into view. The knowledge and practice of nursing, as influenced by culturally available meanings and technologies, is being scrutinised, reflected upon, negotiated and inevitably reconfigured. According to Crowe and O'Malley (2006, p. 80) nurses in contemporary healthcare contexts require 'the ability to assess and respond to a proliferation of simultaneously novel and redundant knowledge and technologies.'

It is a time of challenge for nursing but the challenge also throws up new possibilities and unearths alternative perspectives and ways of being and knowing. Many nurses have taken this opportunity to innovate in practice, research and education and to examine nursing identities, knowledge and practice in newly creative and critical ways (Leight, 2002). The research study presented in this paper is situated in this shifting landscape and explores the use of arts-based approaches as a means of inquiry and knowledge development among a group of undergraduate student nurses.


In recent times, calls from within the profession as well as current political/socio-economic imperatives have encouraged nursing to articulate and assert its own identity(ies), value(s) and knowledge. Nursing academics in particular have been called upon to investigate and define what constitutes uniquely nursing knowledge and practice in contexts where nursing has traditionally appropriated knowledge and philosophies from other paradigms; in particular medicoscientific (Proctor, 2000). While scientific and positivistic inquiry are recognised and valued as a means of generating some aspects of nursing knowledge, many nursing scholars have asserted that nursing also requires methods of inquiry and knowledge generation/articulation that are more fluid and sensitive to the unique particulars of human beings in healthcare contexts (Cowley, Mitcheson, & Houston, 2004) and the complex nature and identity of nursing itself (Hyde et al., 2006). Carper's seminal work in 1978 suggested four fundamental and enduring patterns of knowing (empiric, aesthetic, ethical, and personal) that nurses use in practice situations. She claimed that each of these patterns has equal importance in the formation and use of nursing knowledge. Carper's work has stimulated a plethora of debate (Munhall, 1993; Silva, Sorrell, & Sorrell, 1995; White, 1995; Zander, 2007) and a widening of the borders of nursing philosophy regarding the nature, generation and communication of nursing knowledge. Contemporary nursing scholars now experiment with a range of maps as they navigate and represent the diverse landscape of nursing knowledge, research, education, and practice.


Internationally, student nurse education has changed remarkably over the last 50 years; transforming itself from an apprenticeship based, service driven model towards an all graduate profession. The traditional focus on vocational training pedagogies and performance outcome strategies has been an area of scrutiny in recent times and the dependence on scientific rationality as a basis for nursing knowledge and philosophy has also been challenged within nurse education curricula. Jackson and Sullivan (1999) argue that while knowledge and understanding of relevant sciences are crucial to safe, effective practice; the domination of nursing and midwifery curricula by science has meant that the caring and expressive aspects which are also essential to effective practice have been marginalized. …

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