An exploration of how new registered nurses construct their professional identity in hospital settings

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Cathy Engstrom


Registered nurses, Professional identity, Hospital

Subject Categories

Education | Medicine and Health Sciences | Nursing


This study was based on twenty-one interviews with sixteen nurses who were within one to three years post graduation from nursing school. All nurse participants were working at three hospitals in Upstate New York. This study began with two main questions: How do nurses in the study think about their occupation and their place in it? And what factors do nurses feel influenced the construction of their professional identity? The interviews were conducted using an open-ended, semi-structured format.

Many nurses delayed their entry to nursing school related to family and societal pressures in conjunction with lack of appropriate academic preparation and gender expectations. The majority of nurses with a delayed entry had also experienced a "lifelong calling" to be a nurse. I argue that relationships with significant others and dissatisfaction with unfulfilling life circumstances tipped the balance in favor of entry.

All the participants reported on the rigors of nursing school independent of the type of program they attended. The rigors of nursing school were tolerable with the aid of supportive, encouraging faculty. Unfortunately, many nurses reported that faculty was "rigid," "inflexible," "judgmental," and "dehumanizing." I argue that faculty subject students to a hazing process similar to one they themselves were subjected in an effort to produce a "successful" nurse.

The data brought forth the need for a challenging but supportive environment in order to be successful in constructing a positive professional nursing identity. The norms of the hierarchical structure of the hospital environment which reinforce passive dependent professional behavior need to be challenged by all who interact within this environment. This challenge encompasses the societal view of the nurse as the "handmaiden" of the physician one lacking in autonomy and independent decision making ability. The change process surpasses the hospital environment to national policy making level.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.