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J Clin Nurs. 2010 Aug;19(15-16):2226-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.02804.x. Epub 2009 Jun 15.

The meaning of autonomy in nursing practice.

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Faculty of Health Studies, Sogn and Fjordane University College, Norway and Department of Education, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway.



To illuminate the meaning of nurses' experiences of autonomy in work situations.


Professional autonomy means having the authority to make decisions and the freedom to act in accordance with one's professional knowledge base. An understanding of autonomy is needed to clarify and develop the nursing profession in rapidly changing health care environments and internationally there is a concern about how the core elements of nursing are taken care of when focusing on expansion and extension of specialist nursing roles.


Qualitative study.


This paper reports part of a project aimed at exploring the education and work qualifications required by the nursing profession. Eleven Norwegian nurses, each with 2-3 years of work experience since graduation, participated in both in-depth interviews and focus group interviews in 2006. A qualitative hermeneutic approach, inspired by Gadamer's philosophy, guided the research process and the analysis and interpretation of the transcribed interview-texts.


The nurses' descriptions of their experiences of autonomy in work situations emerged as four themes: 'to have a holistic view', 'to know the patient', 'to know that you know' and 'to dare'. To be knowledgeable and confident was found to be the coherent meaning of autonomy in nursing practice.


Authority of total patient care, the power to make decisions in a relationship with the patient and next of kin and the freedom to make clinical judgements, choices and actions seem to be connected to the meaning of autonomy in nursing practice.


To gain autonomous practice, nurses must be competent and have the courage to take charge in situations where they are responsible. This study shows the challenges in handling this autonomous practice.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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