Vital Signs: Nursing in Transition


125 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-920059-59-7
DDC 610.73





Reviewed by Ian W. Toal

Ian W. Toal is a nurse in Barrie, Ontario.


This book examines some of the political history of nursing from a
feminist and a socialist perspective. That one of the perspectives
should be feminist is no surprise. It is clear that nursing is women’s
work, “both in the sense that the overwhelming majority of those who
do the work are women and in the sense that the skills and relations
involved are those most characteristic of women’s work.” As a male
in the nursing profession, I agree with these assessments, and recognize
that the unique focus of nursing exists primarily because it is opposed
to the “male” medical system.

The first of the book’s three chapters examines how nursing has been
subordinated by medicine, politics, and profitmaking, and how the
general low opinion of nurses exists to the present day. The second
chapter looks at the impact of technology on nursing—specifically, on
how nurses respond to technological change, how advances in technology
affect the workplace, and whether or not work skills suffer as a result
of new technology. The third chapter examines the history of the union
movement in nursing and makes predictions about the future of unionized
nurses in Canada.

The book’s unconventional approach serves as a useful counterpoint to
the neoconservative, politically correct accepted wisdom that permeates
much of the debate on social policy in Canada. As an academic book, it
will probably be of little interest to general readers. Unfortunately,
it will probably have little appeal for many nurses, in spite of its
importance. It contains many “radical” ideas that nurses should
think about and debate. In an ideal world, it would be required reading
for all nurses; in reality, I suspect it will preach only to the


Armstrong, Pat, Jacqueline Choiniere, and Elaine Day., “Vital Signs: Nursing in Transition,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024,