Aim(s): To examine nursing leadership in contemporary health care and its potential contribution to health service organization and management.
Background: As the nursing profession repositions itself as an equal partner in health care beside medicine and management, its enhanced nursing standards and clinical knowledge are not leading to a commensurate extension of nursing's power and authority in the organization.
Method(s): An ethnographic study of an ICU in Sydney, Australia, comprising: interviews with unit nursing managers (4); focus groups (3) with less experienced, intermediate and experienced nurses (29 in total); and interviews with senior nurse manager (1).
Results: Inter- and intra-professional barriers in the workplace, fragmentation of multidisciplinary clinical systems that collectively deliver care, and clinical and administrative disconnection in resolving organizational problems, prevented nurses articulating a model of intensive and end-of-life care.
Conclusion(s): Professional advocacy skills are needed to overcome barriers and to articulate and operationalize new nursing knowledge and standards if nurses are to enact and embed a leadership role.
Implications for nursing management: The profession will need to move beyond a reliance on professional clinical models to become skilled multidisciplinary team members and professional advocates for nurses to take their place as equal partners in health care.