Invisibility cloaks are magical devices that render the wearers invisible
and transparent – they simply become part of the background. Furthermore, the wearer of the cloak can see through it and actually be wearing it without being fully conscious of it. Although invisibility cloaks have existed in mythology for centuries, they have recently been brought to public consciousness through the work J.K. Rowlings in the Harry Potter series. But I think they provide a relevant metaphor for what many nurses often experience – instances in which they and/or their contributions to health and healing remain invisible. And, my question is, can a shift to focusing on the nursing knowledge that underpins our practice and making it visible by naming it Nursology, help nurses in general to remove or refuse the cloak of invisibility?
In my years of nursing experience, whether in practice, education, or research, I have experienced and witnessed many instances of nursing and nurses, myself included, being rendered invisible. Nurses may themselves put on the cloak of invisibility by using the phrase, “I’m just a nurse” or by undervaluing their work. A participant in one of my studies recounted an amazing example of capacity building in a group of adolescent girls but described her role in the transformation that took place as not “ much of anything” 1.
We can also put on the cloak of invisibility by valuing the knowledge of related disciplines more highly than nursing knowledge, such as happens when nurses dismiss nursing conceptual frameworks as irrelevant while, at the same time, consciously or unconsciously using knowledge from other fields to inform or define their nursing practice, either in scope or content 2,3.
Sometimes the cloak of invisibility is put on us by others. We may or may not be conscious of the cultural and societal cloaks put on those of us who are women. And those of us who “trained” to be nurses in the 1960s will also be able to relate to the cloaks we acquired as deference to physicians was instilled in us. We can only remove these cloaks by becoming conscious of them. Public health nurses in my studies provided evidence that such cloaking continues. For example, one nurse told me about being required by their employer not to refer to themselves as nurses or the work they did as care; instead they were to refer to themselves as public health professionals, in the name of interdisciplinarity.
These reflections came about because of a conversation I had with a friend and colleague in which I related the following incident. I was attending, on behalf of a national nursing association and by invitation, a media release of interest to health and other workers involved in in promoting healthy populations. After the release we were invited to attend a luncheon to discuss implications of the report from each of our perspectives. One gentleman present clearly represented a biomedical approach to health and he and I exchanged perspectives that were rather diametrically opposed to one another. After the luncheon he made his way across the room to me and asked me what my PhD was in (we each had place card tents which included our credentials). I told him “nursing”. He thought I misunderstood him and repeated the question and received the same answer. He replied, “no, I can’t have a PhD in medicine and you can’t have one in nursing.” I assured him I did. Exasperated, he asked what my dissertation topic was. I answered that it was an oral history of public health nursing in Ontario. “Ahh”, he replied, “that’s the answer! Your PhD is in history!” With that he left, satisfied that he had set me straight!
In relating that incident to my friend, we contemplated, would that have been the case if my PhD was in Nursology? I think probably not. It might have raised the question, “What is Nursology” which I would have welcomed!