Stories, moral judgment, and medical care in an intensive care unit

Qual Health Res. 2004 May;14(5):663-74. doi: 10.1177/1049732304263651.


A division of labor exists between nurses and doctors in a surgical intensive care unit. Nurses perform a culturally identified feminine expressive role, caring about patients as well as for them. Doctors perform a culturally identified masculine instrumental role, concerned with curing patients' bodies. The nurses are interested in the patients' stories; the doctors attempt to ignore the stories to concentrate on returning patients to function. Based on the patient's story, however, the nurses make severe judgments as to moral worth. Such judgments can impair medical care. Must doctors, then, disregard patients' stories? In other words, must they limit themselves to caring for patients' bodies, attempting to ignore the individuals, situated in a web of social relationships, who inhabit those bodies?

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units* / organization & administration
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Midwestern United States
  • Morals*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*