Re-engaging Concepts of Professionalism to Inform Regulatory Practices in Nursing


      It is important to define and promote professionalism because nurses’ conduct is at the heart of maintaining safe patient care and public trust in the profession. Professionalism and being professional are terms used frequently and interchangeably in the nursing literature and policy documents to describe qualities and conduct expected of nurses. However, there is not a shared understanding of the attributes of nursing professionalism.


      This article explores three primary questions: (a) How is professionalism defined? (b) What are the attributes of professionalism as described in the literature? (c) What attributes of professionalism related to nursing are captured within the regulatory (licensure) framework of Australia?


      A scoping review structured this study with articles about professionalism (a key search term) identified through PubMed, CINAHL, and Embase searches. Included articles were published in English between 1960 to 2019. Excluded articles provided no definition or discussion on the attributes of professionalism. Articles were coded using descriptive qualitative data analysis techniques. Attributes were then mapped against the Australian nursing and midwifery Professional Practice Framework, which included codes of conduct and standards of practice.


      Three overarching themes emerged from the data synthesis, each with a number of constituent attributes: (a) inner processes, (b) outer processes, and (c) contextual processes. The themed constituent attributes of professionalism could be found within nursing regulators’ Professional Practice Framework documents. A 21st-century conceptual model of professionalism and its links to the regulatory context is proposed based on the data synthesis findings.


      The proposed contemporary model of professionalism provides a broader contextual perspective of the attributes of professionalism compared to past models. It offers a potential model for other countries to draw from as they strengthen professional regulatory infrastructure in nursing and midwifery.


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      Lynette Cusack, PhD, RN, is an Associate Professor, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Adelaide Nursing School, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, and a Nursing and Midwifery Research Consultant, Northern Adelaide Local Health Network.


      Phoebe G. Drioli-Phillips, BPsych(Hons), is Research Assistant, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Adelaide Nursing School, The University of Adelaide.


      Janie A. Brown, PhD, RN, is Course Coordinator—Master of Nursing Practice, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, Curtin University, Western Australia.


      Sarah Hunter, PhD, BPsych(Hons), is a Knowledge Translation Postdoctoral Research Fellow, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University, South Australia.