University Of Tasmania

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'I've got no idea': an ethnography of critical care nurses' nuanced and ambiguous professional identities in regional Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 09:45 authored by Melissa-Jane BelleMelissa-Jane Belle, Peta CookPeta Cook
Historical sociological perspectives posit professional identity to emerge from socialisation and attainment of ‘traits’ considered unique to and distinguishing of a profession. Such essentialist understandings, however, cannot account for group heterogeneity, nurses’ lived experiences, nor the fluidity of professional and personal identity. This article conceptualises professional identity as being both individual and collective, influenced by context, involving subjective meaning-making, and membership to a specific professional group. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered through participant observation and semi-structured interviews with Critical Care Nurses in an Intensive Care Unit in regional Australia, we identify four themes that reveal different aspects of professional identity: conceptualising professional identity; professional identity as a title and legislative requirement; professional identity as qualifications and training; and professional identity as a social performance. The findings demonstrate that Critical Care Nurses hold multifaceted perceptions of professional identity. While they collectively distinguish their nursing training, knowledge, and practice from other nurses, they struggle to articulate what professional identity is, while creating boundaries between different forms of nursing education and qualifications to construct their professional identity. These uncertain and diverse meanings of professional identity contribute to nurse identity ambiguity, while also reflecting the necessity of flexible individual and collective nursing identities.


Publication title

Health Sociology Review






School of Health Sciences



Place of publication


Rights statement

© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Nursing; Professions and professionalisation; Expanding knowledge in human society