Just prior to joining the SSF (the Society of St Francis) I was beginning my PhD studies in nursing looking at the concept of Nursing as a Vocation: do nurses still view nursing as a vocation. I of course set that aside when I joined SSF in order to focus on the move to religious life. Six years on and I still find this a phenomenon which interests me. Perhaps more personally these days. Given that the word ‘vocation’ takes on both a religious and secular connotation answering this question already commences with some sense of ambiguity of definition. Definitions of vocation range from purely secular; that is relating to the appointment to a job or profession to purely religious; relating to sense of calling by God to a particular way of life. There are of course those definitions which try to hedge their bets either way.
Since entering religious life, the phenomenon of nursing as a vocation, a calling from God to a particular way of life, has had a particular place in my reflections. I think this is particularly so as I experience the art of nursing with particular revelations about the nature of God and an awareness of the desire to share those revelations or insights with the people of God. Not necessarily in a literal sense of telling people about the spiritual experience itself, however on occasion I have, but more in the sense of being aware of how these revelation insights influence the way in which I interpret and interact with events and people in the world. For example, in the art of nursing I experience an awareness of God’s love for humanity, and thus the desire to express that love to humanity; through the simple act of caring.
I think that this sense of interpreting and understanding the experiences of nursing is vastly different to the understanding of nursing as a purely caring profession. The difference being that on can care for another out of love and charity, or less altruistically for money and career, but that it hold no significant religious experience or sense of being present with the Divine; one can simply experience the joy of caring for another. However, when, in that art of nursing, one is challenged to see the face of God in the person whom they are caring for, and that that experience moves beyond the physical worldly realm to the Spiritual and Divine world then this surely moves beyond an understanding of vocation in a secular sense and is interpreted as a calling by God to a particular way of life.
I found myself thinking more about this today and I did a quick look through nursing literature that has been written on nursing and spirituality and or nursing as a vocation. I was intrigued that the plethora of articles I scanned mostly focused on whether or not nurses had an appreciation for the need to include the concept of spirituality into the care of their clients and patients. The other major area covered seems to be how one can measure or include spirituality into the care of patients. A minor segment of literature focused on the movement of nursing from a vocation to a profession; which was mostly motivated by a desire for nursing to be taken seriously as a profession and for there to be appropriate professional recognition through wages and career pathways. There seemed to be no articles which spoke about how nurses experience nursing either as a vocation in the secular or religious sense. It makes me curious, is this not an area of interest today, are nurses concerned that such discussion will repeal their achievements of professional standing and career prospects, or has the art and vocation of nursing been lost, do nurses no longer feel called by God to a particular way of life but merely a job.