Power and Empowerment in Nursing: Looking Backward to Inform the Future

Milisa Manojlovich PhD, RN, CCRN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2007;12(1) 

In This Article

The Concept of Power

Power is a widely used concept in both the physical and social sciences, and as a result, there are many definitions. In the physical sciences power refers to the amount of energy transferred per unit of time. Electricians work to provide and restore this type of power as a matter of course. Mathematicians have a different notion of power in mind when they talk about a numeral to the second (or third) power. Sociologists describe power as the ability to impose one's will upon others, and savvy researchers conduct power analyses before they begin their experiments.

Several definitions of power have been used in nursing. Power has been defined as having control, influence, or domination over something or someone. Another definition views power as "the ability to get things done, to mobilize resources, to get and use whatever it is that a person needs for the goals he or she is attempting to meet". For Benner, power includes caring practices by nurses which are used to empower patients. Power may also be viewed as a positive, infinite force that helps to establish the possibility that people can free themselves from oppression.

Some researchers have described types of power, such as legal, coercive, remunerative, normative, and expert power. Of particular interest to nursing is the concept of expert power, which has been defined as "the ability to influence others through the possession of knowledge or skills that are useful to others". Benner has described qualities of power associated with caring provided by nurses such as transformative and healing power. Transformative and healing power contribute to the power of caring, which is central to the profession of nursing.

Power is necessary to be able to influence an individual or group. Nurses need power to be able to influence patients, physicians, and other health care professionals, as well as each other. Powerless nurses are ineffective nurses, and the consequences of nurses' lack of power has only recently come to light (Page, 2004). Powerless nurses are less satisfied with their jobs, and more susceptible to burnout and depersonalization. Lack of nursing power may also contribute to poorer patient outcomes. Studies such as these suggest that there are compelling reasons to promote power in nursing.


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