Although emotional labor has been the focus of much debate and empirical enquiry within a range of health-care settings over the past decade or so, the most prominent of these is nursing with studies conducted in the context of general nurses (de Castro, 2004; de Raeve, 2002; Smith and Gray, 2000; Kelly et al., 2000; Henderson, 2001; Staden, 1998; Rafaeli and Sutton, 1987), learning disability nurses (Mitchell and Smith, 2003), mental health nurses (Mann and Cowburn, 2005; Majomi et al., 2003), midwives (Hunter, 2001), gynaecology nurses (McCreight, 2004; Bolton, 2000) and hospice nurses (James, 1989).

The reasons for the preoccupation with nursing in this context are well-defined (and will be expanded upon next), but it is worth mentioning that other health care professions examined have included medical students (Smith and Kleinman, 1989; Lief and Fox, 1963) and clinical psychologists (Mann and Jones, 1996).

Emotional Labor and Nursing

Emotional labor has been an important topic of debate in nursing since of its apparent significance to those involved in the delivery of health care and to the patients who receive that care (Phillips, 1996). Mitchell and Smith (2003, p. 111) in their review of emotional labor within learning disability nursing add that emotional labor has always been “part of the image of nursing”.

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