Heidegger and the ontological meaning of work

For a student nurse to succeed becoming a nurse, a self-understanding of work is an area of educational reflection in nursing pedagogy. Nursing is commonly understood to be “hard work”: long hours of mentally, physically and emotionally demanding toiling that can only be sustained with proper understanding and sincere dedication. The everyday understanding of work as a necessity in life – to earn a living, to be a useful member of society, to develop self-esteem in the complex web and networks of Mitdasein – is, as Todd S Mei points out in Heidegger, work, and being (2009), hermeneutically inadequate (Mei, 2009, 3). Mei proposes using Heidegger to bring about an “ontological transformation” of work that allows Dasein to participate in the question of being, which is fundamental to the very notion of ontology and may overcome the modern obsession with “utility” and “necessity” in work (Mei, 2009, 2-3). In the case of a nurse, she finds authenticity in her self-understanding as Dasein in what she does and learns as a nurse, which is always enmeshed in the well-being of patients under her care, which is a unique Mitdasein determined by healing or palliative care, either of which in turn determines the meaning of being in nursing. Nursing with self-understanding is essentially Dasein becoming aware of itself as Mitdasein seeking what is whole and hale. It fits in with what is described in Rauschenbach (2000, 115 ff) and is cited in Fleckinger (2013, 16), a MA thesis on Ehrenamt in palliative care, as “ein tätiges, gemeinwohlorientiertes Engagement”. Also relevant and highly poignant is a quotation from Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, cited in Fleckinger (2013, 44): “We are concerned with persons and we are concerned as persons” (Saunders, 1972, 275). Such interconnectedness of care forms the hermeneutic circle in nursing.

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