The meaning and importance of service for health professionals
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The primary purpose of this study was to explore and identify the meaning and importance of service for health professionals. Those who participated in this study are all registered nurses who each have between 10 and 40 years of clinical nursing and nurse lecturing experience. The participants each wrote two stories, one about the meaning of service and the other about the importance of service. Definitions of service generally suggest organised labour involving an act of help or assistance. Our intent was to understand what constituted service for each of us in the healthcare - and specifically the nursing practice/education - context.A secondary purpose of this qualitative research was guided by participatory and critical theory paradigms. Seven participants and I (as the initiating researcher) formed a co-operative inquiry group to undertake the research using a collaborative process. Within this method the leader and the group became co-participants and co-researchers. Nurses and women are identified as marginalised people and by honouring the principles of co-operative inquiry we were empowered through this process. While the initial data was analysed thematically by the lead researcher, the original 19 sub-themes were refined by participants into five themes.The findings of the participants are consistent with overseas studies on emotional labour and sentimental work. The five themes that emerged as the meaning of service are helping, giving, elements of service, acts of doing, and pride in work. Helping was defined as an attitude and an action, which often results in a spiritual connection. Giving involves stretching yourself, and altruistic behaviour that also incorporated a spiritual component. Five sub-themes merged to form the third theme elements of service; working with people, being a public servant, being a servant, need and duty. The complexity and hidden aspect of service work was expressed in acts of doing where being professional was paramount. The final theme, pride in work, acknowledged childhood conditioning and a sense of contributing to the greater good through our unique work as nurses. This study affirmed that service has much importance to those involved and deepened our understanding of the blend of meanings service expresses.