Social Nurses’ Descriptions of Nursing: A Qualitative Study of What Social Nursing is and Does?

The Open Nursing Journal 31 December 2019 RESEARCH ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/1874434601913010228



In the meeting between socially marginalised patients and somatic hospitals, healthcare systems often encounter complex challenges related to health inequalities that are difficult to resolve. To help reduce these challenges, a nursing approach employing a nurse (RN) with in-depth knowledge of socially marginalised patients and competences in rehabilitation (“social nurse”) has contributed to diminish health inequalities. However, further insight into the potential benefits of social nursing is required.


To examine how social nurses describe and experience the social nursing approach situated at somatic hospitals.


A qualitative study of social nurses’ descriptions and experiences with a social nurse approach included eight Danish hospitals. One male and 12 female nurses (n=13) employed as social nurses at somatic hospitals participated. Thirteen semi structured interviews were conducted using the methodological frameworks of phenomenology and hermeneutics. The interviews were analysed employing a method inspired by the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation.


Four themes emerged from the analysis: 1) A unique expertise encompassing experience and evidence-based knowledge 2) coordination towards a common goal to reduce patients’ vulnerability, 3) to see and understand patients as whole persons, thereby assuring successful treatment and 4) working with the system to avoid losing the patients.

The themes describe a unique expertise emerging from focusing healthcare efforts on the socially marginalised patients and the system in charge.


The study indicated that the social nurse approach is a holistic nursing approach. Applying this approach allows for optimised treatment that fosters a more equal outcome across the spectrum of socially marginalised patients. The social nurse approach may contribute to diminishing health inequalities.

Keywords: Harm reduction, Health disparities, Inequality in healthcare, Nursing, Qualitative method, Social marginalisation, Ricoeurean interpretation.
Fulltext HTML PDF ePub