Managing Identities: workers, professions and identity

Journal Club Article: Davies, C. (2002). Managing identities: workers, professions and identityNursing Management, 9(5), 31-34.

Identity refers to professionals’ relation to work and learning, and the close interaction between professional learning and personal development.

“In the multidisciplinary approach to healthcare provision, it is important to establish the impact professional identity has had on all those participating in the health and social care field.” Davies asks us to consider and reflect on how we define identities and professionalism to understand how binary thought “locks us into power relations that value some kinds of contribution and minimise others.”

Question 1: Who am I, and to think about our own identity and do you match your job title?

Question 2: Describe a colleague and their identities, either junior or senior to you, and then compare to yourself.

Consider the differences between a nurse and nurse manager, think of the conflicts and power struggles that may exist. Davies states the different ‘hats’ that the professional healthcare role may require, from the local to the organisational level. Consider the role of manager trying to implement a leading health service and positive workplace culture but held back by financial constraints.

Identity as a process and the traditional view of roles such as nurse-patient, nurse-mother, manager-worker. “Establishing an identity in this way sets a boundary, stresses the differences between people rather than their similarities and connections.”


Davies highlights that the process of creating identity through ‘Othering’ where a “dominant group defines what is valued and what is normal by reference to itself and hence excludes and oppresses others.” The examples of the medical profession been seen as knowledgeable and decisive, whereas the patient role is seen as passive, grateful and compliant, and the division between qualified and unqualified staff (consider your experience of the nursing team and the identity between the levels of nurses).

“Focusing on binary thinking in this way suggests a real bleakness at the heart of identity theory. If the very act of establishing my identity devalues and demeans yours, there seems to be little hope that we can relate to each other in a positive way.”

Question 3: Consider if your identity may undermine or devalue colleagues. If you’re an educator or manager consider the team members and if you ‘other’ them. Thinking of the professional identity and ‘the service comes first’ approach, especially vocational work such as nursing how do you perceive colleagues who are more pragmatic in their approach to healthcare delivery?

Question 4: Think about the client as ‘other’. This is the confrontational one to reflect on, especially in the current client focused and individualised care delivery that health systems were not set up for.  Have you come across the client seen in the role of dependent or a burden on resources (such as the elderly or mental health)?

Classic Professional Identity

“The trust that has been put in the professions, the high hopes that they are somehow apart from the rest of us, able to solve individual and societal problems now seems misplaced. It is a good moment to explore again the identities that professionals have developed that seemed to work in the past but no longer do so. What are the promises of what I will call ‘classic professional identity’, and what do they say both about the professional and the ‘other’?”


“Professionals are accorded respect by virtue of their possession of this knowledge. The process of becoming a professional has instilled in new members a special sense of trustworthiness. The classic model invites us to see professionals as altruistic and committed to the use of their knowledge for public good. Professionals are expected to be calm and confident, decisive yet sensitive, responsible decision-makers in key areas of our lives. ”

Consider the trustworthiness held by the public of healthcare professionals, especially nurses [Gallop poll]. How much of identity and the public perception of the role of ‘nurse’ makes nurses the top of the professions? Now consider the blurred lines in this situation where a nurse commented on the care of a family member, this situation raises the question of where does the professional role of ‘nurse’ end and they become a family member or part of society allowed to the right of free speech [link here].


Davies, C. (2002). Managing identities: workers, professions and identityNursing Management, 9(5), 31-34.

Salling Olesen, H. (2000). Professional Identity as Learning Processes in Life Histories. Roskilde University Life History Project Paper. Roskilde University, P10, Postboks 260, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark (free).