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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The development of practical nursing in British Columbia : a social historical perspective, 1940-1980 Caputo, Shari Andrea


This thesis examines the development of the practical nurse (PN) role within the British Columbia (BC) health care system focusing on the years between 1940 and 1980. This project is significant due to the scant amount of Canadian research on this topic. The hidden role of PNs prior to 1940 is discussed, followed by an examination of socio-political contexts that encouraged their development in Canada. Subsequently, PN education and their emerging role in health care in BC is explored. Of relevance to BC, the significant delay in legislation is addressed, as well as organized responses by groups, such as several BC government ministries, the national and BC Registered Nurses Associations, the hospital union and the PNs themselves. Nursing relations, such as registered nurses endorsement of and collaboration with PNs, as well as themes of power and tension amongst practical and registered nurses are explored. Examination of the career of Florence Wilson, a former BC PN and legislation advocate, are interwoven in this discussion, constituting a minor biographical component within the thesis. A historical research methodology is utilized and key sources of primary data include the Canadian Nurse journal, and many archival documents and reports from professional RN associations, government ministries and related health care organizations. These were obtained mainly from the BC Archives. Secondary sources include multiple research articles and books. To conclude, the thesis points out that within the context of twentieth century health care and hospital expansion, practical nursing proved an essential component of the nursing workforce. Subsequently, practical nursing became formalized as a legitimate professional group with its own distinct organizational and legislative basis. Additionally it is noted that the politics of PN development is inseparably linked to contemporary nursing issues such as scope of practice, role ambiguity and nurse substitution.

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