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Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



This paper was part of the 2016-2017 Penn Humanities Forum on Translation. Find out more at


The legacy of gendered professionalization, the racial hierarchy of apartheid, and profound health care policy changes in the post-apartheid era, facilitated a specific scrutiny of maternity nurses working in the public sector in independent Midwife Obstetric Units in South Africa. Within scholarship on the quality of maternity care in South Africa, the professional identity of nurses is used to explain issues of rudeness and abuse faced by patients (Jewkes, Abrahams & Mvo, 1998). However, the perspective of nurses themselves on their experience of identity and how it shapes their work is notably absent. It is the aim of this paper to connect the social forces that have shaped the nursing profession and its narratives to original data about nurses’ experience of profession and identity. I will argue that three factors – the valuation of autonomy as a practitioner, a close connection to community, and intentional distancing from the private obstetric standards of care – provide an alternate narrative of how professional identity is experienced by nurses working in primary, public maternity care as a factor that promotes rather than denigrates quality care.



Date Posted: 08 July 2019