From expert generalists to ambiguity masters: using ambiguity tolerance theory to redefine the practice of rural nurses Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • To redefine the practice of rural nurses and describe a model that conceptualises the capabilities and characteristics required in the rural environment.The way in which the practice of rural nurses has been conceptualised is problematic. Definitions of rural nursing have been identified primarily through the functional context of rural health service delivery. The expert generalist term has provided a foundation theory for rural nurses with understandings informed by the scope of practice needed to meet service delivery requirements. However, authors exploring intrinsic characteristics of rural nurses have challenged this definition, as it does not adequately address the deeper, intangible complexities of practice required in the rural context. Despite this discourse, an alternative way to articulate the distinctive nature of rural nursing practice has eluded authors in Australia and internationally.A theoretical paper based on primary research.The development of the model was informed by the findings of a study that explored the nursing practice of managing telephone presentations in rural health services in Victoria, Australia. The study involved policy review from State and Federal governments, nursing and medical professional bodies, and five rural health services; semi-structured interviews with eight Directors of Nursing, seven registered nurses and focus group interviews with eight registered nurses.An ambiguity tolerance model drawn from corporate global entrepreneurship theory was adapted to explain the findings of the study. The adapted model presents capabilities and characteristics used by nurses to successfully manage the ambiguity of providing care in the rural context.Redefining the practice of rural nurses, through an adapted theory of ambiguity tolerance, highlights nursing characteristics and capabilities required in the rural context. This perspective offers new ways of thinking about the work of rural nurses, rural nurse policy, education, recruitment, retention and clinical governance.A greater understanding of rural nurse practice will assist in achieving positive care outcomes in an environment with competing stakeholder needs, and limited resources and options for care.

publication date

  • 2016