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Caring: The Core of Nursing Practice

Caring: The Core of Nursing Practice

Debra S. McDonough, RN, MSN, EdD

Florence Nightingale (1860) defined nursing as having “charge of the personal health of somebody…and what nursing has to do…is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.” In one way or another, this definition of nursing has remained the same. And at the very core of nursing practice is the act of caring. Caring and nursing are so intertwined that nursing would not be nursing without the act of caring. Caring is “a feeling and exhibiting concern and empathy for others; showing or having compassion” (The Free Dictionary, 2015). Caring is a feeling that also requires an action. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2008) and the National League for Nursing (2007) have identified caring as a foundational value for nursing.

No one can disagree with the advanced achievements of medical technology and growing specialization. However, care is more than cure. Caring is more than being patient-centered. Care needs to recognize every person as human beings whose experiences affect health and wellbeing directly. Nurses need to develop the “head, hand and heart” approach, which incorporates practical know-how with empathic understanding and technical knowledge to provide humane and sensitive care. Nurses need to be taught about caring and what attitudes they need to achieve it safely and with dignity for everyone involved (Hemingway, 2013).

Attitudes, Beliefs, and Values

What is the most important element in what nurses do? Perhaps it is based on the concept of treating others as valued human beings. When we provide nursing in a respectful manner, with dignity and care, then everything we do for and with those human beings will reflect that. All the issues faced by the patient will be handled to the best of our ability with a caring attitude. The nurse’s thoughts and actions will be controlled by a desire to do things in a way that would be acceptable for ourselves, our partners, our families, and our friends. Nurses need to consider how best to develop their ability to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.” We need to ensure that everyone who works with vulnerable ill people has an attitude that enables them to empathize, listen to, and learn from another’s experiences (Hemingway, 2013).

Applying the 5 Cs of Caring in Your Daily life as a Nurse

The 5 Cs of caring, developed by Sister Simone Roach (2002), includes commitment, conscience, competence, compassion, and confidence. Benefits of consistently applying the five Cs by nurses in the workplace can lead to improved work relationships, improved patient relationships, and increased the likelihood of career advancement.

The Five Cs

Nursing Behavior


-Dedicated to going above and beyond normally expected behaviors.

-Pledging to uphold strong values.

-Career commitment to life-long learning that will enhance the level of care delivered to patients.


-Sense of moral responsibility resulting from a strong conscience.

-Working consistently on another’s behalf and “representing the concerns of the patient.”

-Continued focus on empathy and putting yourself in the patient’s shoes.


-Consistently arriving to work on time.

-Presenting a professional manner.

-Hold self to a high standard of excellence when fulfilling daily tasks.

-Ask for help or clarification when there is uncertainty about a specific duty or method.

-Continually improve skills to develop competence.



-Empathize with patients.

-Provide kind and considerate treatment at all times. In return, nurses may receive an inspirational sense of human connection and confirmation of the meaning of their work.



-Confidence ties the other 4 of the 5 Cs together.

-It takes confidence in skills and knowledge to act with commitment, follow conscience, constantly act in a competent manner, and express compassion, even in the most challenging circumstances.

-A confident nurse can assist others who are dealing with difficult news. A strong sense of self will summon positive change in patient care.

Are You Going to be a Caring Nurse?

In a study done by Rhodes, Morris, Lazenby (2011), over two-thirds of subjects expressed caring as an essential Nursing characteristic. Many described caring as “essential,” “the most important trait,” “central to nursing,” or “critical to the role.” A caring nurse can cause patients “not to be scared,” Others indicated that caring separated nursing from other professions and is essential for providing holistic care. Other comments included “without caring…not a nurse” and “even if no one else cares, nurses do.”

Are you going to be a caring nurse? Make a commitment today to incorporate the Five C’s into your life and profession.



American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2008). The essentials of baccalaureate education for professional nursing practice. Washington, DC: Author.

Hemingway, A. (2013). What is nursing care and who owns it? Nursing Times; Online early publication.

National League for Nursing. (2007). Core Values. Retrieved from

Rhodes, M., Morris, A., Lazenby, R. (February 25, 2011) "Nursing at its Best: Competent and Caring" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 16 No. 2. DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol16No02PPT01

Roach, S. (2002). Caring, the human mode of being: A blueprint for the health professions (2nd revised edition). Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Hospital Association Press. 

The Free Dictionary. (2002). Definition of caring. Retrieved from