Serving two (or more) masters: accomplishing autonomous nursing practice in chronic disease management
The concept of professional autonomy has figured prominently in literature that addresses nursing's project of professionalization. Nursing's capacity to determine the nature and scope of its practice is related in important ways to the location of practice. Within highly structured environments such as acute-care hospitals, nurses' professional autonomy has frequently been contested yet is often implicated by nursing's elite as a necessary condition in the construction of quality work environments. Professional concerns and management practices related to retaining experienced nurses to support sustainability in healthcare delivery systems' impact on the ability of nurses to practice autonomously. Our paper focuses on the emerging field of practice of chronic disease management. We describe the complex relationships negotiated by a nurse in a theoretically autonomous practice setting as she seeks to fulfil both the requirements of a research protocol designed by physician experts representing the specialty of renal medicine, and her professional obligations to respond to the expressed needs of patients with early-stage renal disease. We utilize a case study approach to explore particular contemporary concerns that nurses in practice confront as they attempt to accomplish professional relationships with patients central to achieving prescribed medical outcomes where nursing practice, as an element of the achievement of those outcomes, is constituted as absent or unacknowledged by the medical researchers leading the project. Implications for nursing's discourses on the professional project of autonomy will be discussed.