What is nursing work? A meta-narrative review and integrated framework

Jennifer Jackson, Janet E. Anderson, Jill Maben

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There is ample evidence that modern nurses are under strain and that interventions to support the nursing workforce have not recognised the complexity inherent in nursing work. Creating a modern model of nursing work may assist nurses in developing workable solutions to professional problems. A new model may also foster cohesion among broad and diverse nursing roles. Aim: The aim of this meta-narrative review was to investigate how researchers, using different methods and theoretical approaches, have contributed to the understanding of nursing work. Methods: A meta-narrative review was done to evaluate the trajectory of nursing work research, from 1953 to present. This review progressed through the stages of planning, searching, mapping, appraisal, and synthesis. Findings: A total of 121 articles were included in this meta-narrative review. These articles revealed five narratives of nursing work, where work is conceptualised as labour. These narratives were physical labour (n = 14), emotional (n = 53), cognitive (n = 24), and organisational (n = 1), and combinations of more than one type of labour (n = 29 articles). The paradigms identified in the meta-narrative were the positivist, interpretive, critical, and evidence-based paradigms. Each article in the review corresponded with a paradigm and a labour narrative, creating a comprehensive model. Conclusions: Nursing work can be understood as a model of physical, emotional, cognitive, and organisational labour. These different types of labour may be hidden and taken for granted. Nurses can use this model to articulate what they do and how it supports patient safety. Nurses can also advocate for staffing allocations that consider all types of nursing labour. Tweetable abstract Nursing work is complex and includes physical, emotional, cognitive, and organisational labour. Staffing needs to take all nursing labour into account.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103944
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive
  • Emotional
  • Labour
  • Meta-narrative
  • Nurses
  • Organisational
  • Physical
  • Review
  • Workforce planning

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