Handover: an ethnographic study of ritual in nursing practice

Intensive Crit Care Nurs. 1996 Apr;12(2):106-12. doi: 10.1016/s0964-3397(96)81074-3.


Three times every day in most of the hospitals and nursing homes in the UK, the so-called ritual of handover takes place. This ethnographic study examines that practice. The handovers of one ward were observed to see if they warrant the label of ritual as described by Helman (1990). Further analysis was performed to examine the functions and meanings of this practice. The conclusion from the analysis is that this practice does merit the label of ritual. Ritual is examined in terms of its meaning and found to serve valuable psychological, social and protective functions for its unwitting participants. Ritual serves another function, it plays an important role in valuing and emphasising what comes to constitute working nursing knowledge. In conclusion, ritual should not be dismissed by a profession which claims a holistic approach as its espoused theory, but further investigated and utilised as a means for accessing nursing knowledge.

MeSH terms

  • Ceremonial Behavior*
  • Communication*
  • Continuity of Patient Care*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Patient Care Planning*