In her reflections on the vocation of nursing Robinson explores many myths and archetypes that give shape and energy to the identity of the nurse as it has evolved in Western culture, including the stories of Hygeia, Baubo, Hermes, Hecate, Cassandra, and the Dionysian Maenad.  The ancient stories of each of these figures and others articulate particular constraints, conventions, and conflicts involved in caregiving, especially in the ways women assume the role of caregiver.  She explains at the outset that she deals particularly with women in nursing, though now many men are nurses, since traditionally it has been a profession deeply shaped by cultural notions of female roles.  Another layer of this exploration is a chapter on the nurse in popular culture that considers ways in which the figure of the nurse has been both elevated and debased, made comic or tragic, sidelined or sexualized.  The multidimensionality of the nursing vocation and, consequently, the challenge it poses to women who enter it, is strongly emphasized throughout the six chapters, which together depict the work of nursing as a soul journey. This journey challenges nurses in new ways to work within institutions that suppress important aspects of their power to do healing work at a level of intimacy generally not accessed by doctors.


The book offers a wide perspective on the nursing profession, especially as it has coevolved with shifting notions of female roles and professionalism in caregiving.  Readers might be motivated to do a little homework to fully appreciate all the references to ancient myths, depth psychologists, and modern film.  Because of the emphasis on archetypes, prototypes, and stereotypes, a good many claims about the lives, choices, challenges, needs, and attitudes of nurses may seem like rather sweeping generalizations, including the core idea of "the nurse," which might seem at times to overlook the diversity of motives and character among nurses.  To appreciate what the book offers, one needs to accept its terms as a study of ideas and images that have been woven into the professional mantle nurses assume and tailor in the course of their professional lives to the rapidly changing circumstances of contemporary nursing.   In addition to that, however, Robinson offers observations about her own childhood experiences, schooling, losses, and epiphanies by way of illustrating her broader points in the story of one nurse's journey.



Place Published

Santa Barbara, CA



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