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Are Nurses Oppressed?

Nurses Article   (1,830 Views 42 Comments 722 Words)
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Nurses have a rewarding profession, but face many challenges in their work. Could oppression be one of them, and what are the solutions?

Are Nurses Oppressed?

Oppressed group behavior is a theory that is derived from studies of colonized populations, with similar dimensions to a meta-theory of post-colonialism. Freire, a Brazilian sociologist and educational researcher, developed a framework in the landmark publication The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire (1970) describes the theoretical constructs of oppression in social systems, and suggests that oppression is a multi-factorial social dynamic, in which one group dominates another group through violence, economic devaluation, and other means. The result of the oppressive social dynamic is dehumanization of the oppressed group. Freire applies a post-modern lens to oppressive systems, indicating that though race was a primary means of identifying an oppressed group, oppression can occur at any level of social distinction, to include professional trade.  

According to Freire, a defining characteristic of oppressed social groups is self-deprecation. In an oppressive social system, oppressed groups see themselves as inferior and less valuable than superior groups. Oppressed groups maintain that identify of inferiority throughout the group culture, and doubt their ability to have knowledge and valid thoughts. The oppressors enforce a system of exploitation, which the oppressed group subconsciously accepts or sees as a status quo. Only through realization of the oppressive system, and awareness that oppressed groups are by no means less human than their oppressors, can an intellectual revolution take place to balance the social system.

Freire describes the theory as a pedagogy because of the importance of understanding oppression as an educational awakening in a social group. As a pedagogy, Freire suggests that oppression within education meant that students were subject to teachers, and were not recognized as having valid thoughts or knowledge prior to the classroom setting. Freire believed that oppression exists through the eyes of the oppressed group, as opposed to an objective lens of a social system. That is, the oppressors rarely realize the levels of oppression and dehumanization they are inflicting on a certain group, often in the name of economic gain and maintaining power. The subjective nature of oppression is an essential element of the pedagogy, and the oppressed dominate the understanding of the oppressive behaviors and systems, both in their suffering within those systems and in the fight for liberation.

In nursing, the pedagogy of oppression could help to explain the possible existence of feelings of oppression in the hospital. Sometimes despite the rewards of nursing practice, there is a feeling of being undervalued, underappreciated, and undercompensated.

Seeking Solutions

Yet, the Freire’s articulation of oppression is not without possible resolution, since education offers the chance for liberation. Possible solutions to improving the experience of nurses is to consider how to upend the level of oppression in healthcare. This could involve elevation of nursing groups to a higher level of governance with the  administrators.

Theoretically, this level of elevation is akin to what Freire suggests as the antidote to oppression. Freire suggests that a balance of power, in which the oppressed are validated as being humanistic, and having true rational thoughts and opinions, can dissipate oppression. In education, Freire suggests that dialogue is the means by which liberation occurs. The dialogue was considered the radical departure from oppression, and one in the balance of knowledge and of humanity is achieved by both parties. A shared governance system between administrators and nurses groups could exemplify Freire’s notion.

Shared governance is a possible a solution to oppressive nursing environments. Autonomy of practice, shared governance, and open communication are theoretically akin to the use of dialogue in education as a means of liberating an oppressed group.

Evidence-based strategies to reversing oppression could include acknowledgement of the existence of oppression in nursing, cultivation of caring and supportive environments among groups of nurses, and empowerment at all levels of nursing to be involved in decision making in nursing practice and team-based nursing care. Simple acts of authentic praise likewise can improve the experience in nursing education. Nurses that support and praise one another, and even simply acknowledge that oppression exists in the nursing profession, can enhance the positive culture of a work environment.  

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you feel oppressed in your work environment? And if not, is there anything that your workplace does that enhances your feelings of value and appreciation? 

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Katherine Brewer is a PhD candidate in nursing and a member of the faculty of Chamberlain University College of Nursing.

30 Likes, 1 Follower, 1 Article, 250 Visitors, and 22 Posts.

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"Oppression" is a little dramatic, isn't it?  What is evidenced based about acknowledgement of the existence of oppression in nursing? That would just an idea of one group imposed on another. In the culture of identity politics, it has become very chic and profitable for groups to claim victim status, thereby avoiding meaningful introspection for the problems they experience that they may have the greater share of responsibility for. 

Instead of claiming such status, nurses would do well to first separate from the narcissistic culture that has been created by notions of entitlement. Gossiping, backbiting, sick calls for superfluous reasons, conspiratorial thinking when feeling overworked and under appreciated. There is no group in any hospital, from physicians to  nurses to house keepers that don't feel under appreciated and over worked. There does seem to be one group that complains more than any other though...

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19 minutes ago, offlabel said:

"Oppression" is a little dramatic, isn't it?  What is evidenced based about acknowledgement of the existence of oppression in nursing? That would just an idea of one group imposed on another. In the culture of identity politics, it has become very chic and profitable for groups to claim victim status, thereby avoiding meaningful introspection for the problems they experience that they may have the greater share of responsibility for. 

Instead of claiming such status, nurses would do well to first separate from the narcissistic culture that has been created by notions of entitlement. Gossiping, backbiting, sick calls for superfluous reasons, conspiratorial thinking when feeling overworked and under appreciated. There is no group in any hospital, from physicians to  nurses to house keepers that don't feel under appreciated and over worked. There does seem to be one group that complains more than any other though...

Well said, I totally agree. The word oppression should be reserved to extreme situations such as the treatment of African Americans before the civil rights movement.  Or, the burning of Christian churches in Muslim countries.  How about chemical warfare upon the Kurds? The repression of women in Saudi Arabia? The treatment of Native Americans during the Westward movement?

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Anybody remember the old "Dr. Pepper" jingle? I think we should change the lyrics-

       🎵 "I'm a victim, you're a victim, wouldn't you like to be a victim too?" 🎵

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tenor.gif?itemid=11190284

I'm sorry - this was all I could think of... :)  I'll show myself out.

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On a more serious note, to the OP - I appreciate the well-written article, I just agree with other commenters that "oppression" is a tad too serious a label for it.

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No I absolutely do not feel oppressed.  Anything but, in fact when a little  perspective is applied.

Using the term "oppression" to describe the challenges many nurses in the profession face diminishes the plight of those who are truly "oppressed".  And if we are going to apply it to the nurses, pretty much the majority of working people are oppressed.

 

Edited by mtmkjr

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I think it is borderline offensive to say nurses are oppressed when you consider the history that others have of TRUE oppresion.

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1 hour ago, Emergent said:

Well said, I totally agree. The word oppression should be reserved to extreme situations such as the treatment of African Americans before the civil rights movement.  Or, the burning of Christian churches in Muslim countries.  How about chemical warfare upon the Kurds? The repression of women in Saudi Arabia? The treatment of Native Americans during the Westward movement?

Freire postulates that oppression can be subtle. It can be violent, but also can be subvert. The hallmark of the construct are that the group is made to feel devalued by a means of the social, economic, and political environment. However one can certainly argue that an economic workgroup such as nurses cannot claim the mantle of supreme systematic oppression as can other groups such as those you mention. 

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54 minutes ago, JadedCPN said:

I think it is borderline offensive to say nurses are oppressed when you consider the history that others have of TRUE oppresion.

that is understandable, considering the intense, systematic, and ingrained nature of notable oppressed groups. 

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1 hour ago, mtmkjr said:

No I absolutely do not feel oppressed.  Anything but, in fact when a little  perspective is applied.

Using the term "oppression" to describe the challenges many nurses in the profession face diminishes the plight of those who are truly "oppressed".  And if we are going to apply it to the nurses, pretty much the majority of working people are oppressed.

 

That is a valid argument. There are similar constructs but perhaps not equated to oppression as Freire meant it. 

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2 hours ago, offlabel said:

"Oppression" is a little dramatic, isn't it?  What is evidenced based about acknowledgement of the existence of oppression in nursing? That would just an idea of one group imposed on another. In the culture of identity politics, it has become very chic and profitable for groups to claim victim status, thereby avoiding meaningful introspection for the problems they experience that they may have the greater share of responsibility for. 

Instead of claiming such status, nurses would do well to first separate from the narcissistic culture that has been created by notions of entitlement. Gossiping, backbiting, sick calls for superfluous reasons, conspiratorial thinking when feeling overworked and under appreciated. There is no group in any hospital, from physicians to  nurses to house keepers that don't feel under appreciated and over worked. There does seem to be one group that complains more than any other though...

Good question. Susan Roberts is a scholar that writes on how nurses experience oppression in relationship to Freire's constructs. She argues that the oppressive nature is related to the administrative and medical takeovers of the healthcare environment. Here is a link to her article -https://journals.lww.com/advancesinnursingscience/Citation/1983/07000/Oppressed_group_behavior__implications_for_nursing.6.aspx

She wrote a second article in 2009 that further looked at the issue, and whether bullying is a potential manifestation as bullying. It has been used in several studies, not to argue that nurses are as oppressed as other racial or socioeconomic groups, but to state that the issue of nurse bullying could be connected to the feelings of subjective oppression within the work environment. As a theory - it helps explain why the constructs exist and are sustained, but, it's a theory, so evidence is still needed to support it. 

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