Professionalism In Nursing

Sandy Beauman, MSN, RNC-NIC

What is professionalism?  This is a question that has been asked and even answered many times over.

An article I came across recently was a literature review of definitions of professionalism.  Some of these definitions included reliability and responsibility, maturity, respect for others, interpersonal skills, and communication skills.  A definition from thirty years ago in the field of sociology defines a profession as compared to a vocation as one with a body of knowledge and skills put into service for the good of others. Historically, there has been a lot of discussion and disagreement about whether nursing meets the definition of a profession. Certainly, nursing meets this definition of a profession. Unfortunately, there is a dichotomy with some specific nurses who may not be considered professionals vs nursing as a profession.  A friend of mine used to talk about the concept of “refrigerator nurses” or nurses who went to work to make money for a specific item or vacation and then stopped working until the need for extra money arose again.  In the current economy, we find nursing students who wish to become a nurse simply because they believe it is a steady source of income.  Those of you who have recently graduated know this isn’t necessarily true!  In addition, there are many reasons why this attitude won’t make for a successful nursing career.  It becomes just a job and not a career or profession where service to others is a strong part of the professional.

Boards of nursing require continuing education in many states (although not all) in an effort to ensure the ongoing professionalism or current knowledge available for care of patients.  In fact, some nurses get their continuing education from whatever event might be most convenient and not really further their knowledge in the area in which they practice.  Neonatal nurses, particularly, need to make a concerted effort to gain current knowledge in their area of practice.  Many changes are happening with the explosion of research now available in the field of neonatology.  There are many resources available for ongoing education and increasing knowledge in neonatal nursing.  As a profession, knowledge must be specific to that discipline.  For many years now, it has been unacceptable to perform care for a patient when it may not be appropriate for that patient, even when ordered by a primary care provider.  The nurse must be knowledgeable enough to question orders given and informed enough to know when explanations for care are credible and reasonable.  Many resources exist for gaining the latest knowledge in neonatal nursing and medicine.  The National Association of Neonatal Nurses has a conference annually, in the fall (, a continuing education article in every journal issue, a program called CNENow! and many other opportunities available to members without cost.  The Association of Neonatal Nurses has two conferences annually, one for neonatal and mother-baby nurses and another for advanced practice nurses (  In addition, ANN often has webinars with current information from experts in their field and a journal with timely and relevant articles with continuing education credit available.  Finally, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses ( has conferences, a journal and evidence-based practice recommendations, sometimes in the neonatal practice arena.  These are just a few places where neonatal nurses can avail themselves of current information to improve their practice and keep current with the rapid changing environment.  Professionalism has more qualities, however, than knowledge.  Knowledge by itself without compassion, integrity and respect for others will not make a successful nurse.  The patient must be the center of our practice, in knowledge, advocacy and practice.


1. Arnold L.  Assessing professional behavior: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Academic Medicine.  2002;77(6):502-515.

About the Author

Sandy Sundquist Beauman has over 30 years of experience in neonatal nursing. In addition to her clinical work, she is very active in the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, has authored or edited several journal articles and book chapters, and speaks nationally on a variety of neonatal topics. She currently works in a research capacity to improve healthcare for neonates. Sandy is also a clinical consultant with Medela. You can find more information about Sandy and her work and interests at