Conservative Nursing and Why it Matters

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
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In the US, nursing is one of the most politically conservative groups of workers, up there with farmers, police officers, and people in the military. Based on the 2006 Northern American Academic Study, 62% of all US university faculty members surveyed identified as being left of center politically, but only 39% of nursing faculty identified this way. Nursing was less liberal than business, engineering and agriculture. Overall, nursing was the most conservative-leaning discipline of the 22 departments surveyed.

I can understand why business and engineering would be among the most conservative disciplines: their programs promise graduates high-paying jobs, they are built on tradition and status quo power and financial structures, and you want engineers especially to stick to tradition and not question gravity. But I don’t completely understand why nursing would align politically with business, engineering, and agriculture. Granted, compared with the level of education of a BSN-prepared nurse, his or her hospital-based salary potential is relatively high. This fact would support a more conservative viewpoint out of economic self-interest. And, although I could not find any studies looking at this specifically, nursing as a profession seems to have a higher than average percent of practicing Christians. Religiosity—and especially a “practicing Christian status” is now highly correlated with social and political conservatism.

Why does this matter? In the US a liberal political orientation is generally aligned with values of economic redistribution, the welfare state, inclusion of minority groups: social justice. These values are at odds with the pro-free market conservative position.  Perhaps this is why when the American Nurses Association supported health care reform, many of its members objected, and questioned why the group was getting involved in politics. Perhaps this is why when I introduce political advocacy to my undergraduate students in community health and health policy, many of them write on their course evaluations comments such as “I just want to be a good nurse and I don’t care about being an activist.”

Political views influence research, science and knowledge production. Having a liberal political orientation is highly correlated with characteristics we associate with intellectualism: Hofstader’s “creative, critical, and contemplative minds,” and a greater tolerance for controversial ideas. In my experience, nursing overall is anti-intellectual. This may be rooted in the “functional doers,” servile tradition of nursing. It may stem from the lack of a well-rounded liberal arts education for most all nurses: BSN prepared nurses generally only have two years of basic liberal arts, and even that is heavily stacked towards the pre-nursing requirements of the sciences. And it may be related to the fact that nursing (as all academic disciplines do) “spawns and hires new PhD’s, so the club reproduces itself,” in the words of Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern. This may be an advantage on one level: nurses are viewed as less snobbish, more like common folk, so that the general public may relate to and trust nurses more than if they were part of the intellectual elite. But for nursing to mature and change, the conservatism of nursing needs to be challenged.

15 thoughts on “Conservative Nursing and Why it Matters

  1. I completely agree with your views, there is only one side represented in nursing. I have been searching for a conservative nursing association. Do you know of any?

    Lisa

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    1. Hi Lisa,
      Interesting question so I did some quick research and thinking on this. I’m wondering if anyone has done any real research on the issue of political spectrum leanings of the various nursing associations in the US. From my own experience and a brief internet search I would put the California Nurses Association out there in left field, and would imagine that most state nursing associations would fall along the political spectrum from there–probably based mostly on the political leanings of the majority in the largest metropolitan areas of each state. The ANA is generally considered to be left of center. Then on the right would be some of the state associations of more ‘red’ states (the south, midwest, etc) and conservative Christian nursing organizations such as the Nurses Christian Fellowship. Then there are many such as the American Association of Critical Care Nurses which seem to try and stay apolitical–a term I think is disingenuous with anything related to health care. Health care is inherently political.
      Hope this helps—anyone else have ideas?
      ~Josephine

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  2. Thanks for the advice. I had the same question. Been really struggling with the agenda of the ANA and not willing to put my dollar toward things I find ethically wrong. So I’m considering disenfranchising from the ANA (which is sad because they have so many good resources). I just don’t want to be supporting some of the liberal views they promote.

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    1. A response from today! Cool! I’m glad I found this site. I just started a BSN program at a Christian university and plan to write many papers from the Conservative point of view. The first is on the Professional Image of Nursing so I’m looking for peer reviewed sources. I’m sure I’ll find what I need — it’s not a difficult topic. I just want to get in on the conversation though about how we Conservative RNs can influence our peers. Just by being smart and caring we can talk about everything from the Right perspective. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as well as the Bible are great books to start with because everyone like the message of equality, liberty and love, they just don’t know how to apply it to policy in a way that advances freedom and prosperity. I thank God for the growth of the Conservative wave and I pray that we are blessed by Him to produce fruit 100-fold.

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  3. I am a doctoral nursing student and my research is on how RNs (regardless of political persuasion) incorporate social justice into their nursing practice. I am trying to include all perspectives of RNs doing social justice as part of this study. I welcome inquiries about this study.

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  4. In my 14 years of nursing in Florida, I have found that conservatives must talk in hushed tones. Many nurse I am familiar with are single mothers who need Uncle Sam to help them out or just limp wristed lobbies who feel that tax payers should keep the paying to keep lazy people alive.

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    1. Just found this blog AND this particular topic.
      The above poster managed to disparage single mothers and gays in one sentence. Well done, Sir!
      *slow clap*

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  5. If you know that nurses and nursing faculty are one of the most conservative professional groups yet believe “… a liberal political orientation is generally aligned with values of economic redistribution, the welfare state, inclusion of minority groups: social justice. These values are at odds with the pro-free market conservative position”, why do nurses need to change? Perhaps you need to change your perspective.

    As you have observed, many nurses seem to be practicing Christians. Christians historically have been leaders in providing health care for the sick and dying all over the world and establishing hospitals for the underserved. Similarly Christians were responsible for establishing some of the leading universities including Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford. Perhaps it is their worldview and not their “anti-intellectualism” that is driving these decision to be a nurse.

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    1. Hi Sharon,
      I appreciate your comments. I would agree that the ‘liberal agenda’ people in our country (myself included) tend not to appreciate the ability of religion (in this specific instance, of Christianity) to solve problems as well as create them. The Civil Rights movement, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr come to mind. A thought-provoking book I read (after this blog post was written) that challenged me to re-think this topic was God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. A core foundational principle of our country was religious freedom along with the necessary separation of church and state. That’s where we might disagree because I believe that (basic) healthcare is a basic right of all our people, and that it belongs primarily in public sphere, just as we have public education (with private and religious education as alternatives).
      ~Josephine

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  6. Dear Josephine,

    I understand your passion and concern about people receiving health care, but your original article addressed the issues of liberal vs conservative world views within nursing while your most recent comment has to do with the “right” of basic healthcare of all our people which, you contend, “belongs primarily in [the] public sphere”.

    Anything within the public sphere becomes a “prize” of the government and I am not convinced that the government is the best way to provide healthcare, education, mail, or any other massive decentralized service. All large government-run agencies, while providing some services to individuals, are notorious for being expensive, inefficient, and corrupt (think of the IRS, the food stamp program, homeland security and the NSA) as the most recent examples.

    While Christians are not without their faults, I contend that the thing that motivates them in their life choices is much different than that which motivates non-Christians.

    Sharon

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    1. Hi Sharon,
      Perhaps on these issues we’ll have to agree to disagree. Your comments have pushed me to again think about ways for nurses to have more of these types of ‘conversations’ (even if this is a virtual one) in respectful and open-minded ways. I’m gearing up to teach a revised politics and policy course for our DNP students and have had to go way outside the nursing literature for anything much of substance on this.
      ~Josephine

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      1. Dear Josephine,
        Like you, I am a teacher in a graduate nursing program. Recently I retired from full time and will be more focused on some specific interests which include global health and nursing leadership.

        The connection between one’s personal worldview and choosing nursing as a career is intriguing to me and as you have noted, lacks little relative research. Seems like a good topic to explore in greater depth.

        Sharon, PhD, FNP-BC, MSN

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    2. Sharon,

      The private sector is more corrupt. And they own government. Liberals want to remove the private sector’s great influence and control over government. Our government has done many, many great things, and to dismiss it is to dismiss society. Government is what we do together – all of us. Not because of Jesus Christ, but because of Humanity. It should reflect the best of us, not the worst, which it does now.

      The problem is, Christians, especially hard-right Christians, want the Church to perform many of the functions of Government so they do not support it’s involvement in helping the poor, among other things; however, having to acknowledge Jesus Christ as your savior shouldn’t be required in order to receive needed services, which is why secular folks (like myself) wish government to be involved because it is religiously neutral.

      The Republican party (the party responsible for dismantling and obstructing the progress of government – except for the military-industrial complex) is made up primarily of these types of Christians, as well as the wealthy because they do not wish to pay taxes. It is an alliance made in hell, and is destroying our country because government cannot function properly for the benefit of all. It functions very well for the very wealthy. No American bankers have gone to jail for the practices that tanked our economy, and they continue with those practices today.

      America will never be run by the Church, and not everyone living here is a Christian; nor should they be. Frankly, I wish conservative Christians would just secede from the union and form their own country. They would be happier. The North won the Civil War, but the South did not go away. Slavery still exists – hidden from view – able to hide behind pride and bravery – plotting every programmed mind against each other.

      Sincerely,

      David Dell

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  7. I think it is important to note that many nurses are conservative, in the 2008 National Survey of Registered Nurses, 35 percent surveyed identified as democrat, 29 percent identified themselves as Republican, and an additional 17 percent were independent or had no party affiliation. It is time to start asking ourselves whether it is proper to treat nursing as a liberal profession, when obviously there is a near even split between nurses on politics. It is time we start asking ourselves if we are treating conservative nurses like equal members of the nursing team.

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