Purdue University Graduate School
Ptacek Dissertation_July.24.2019.pdf (1.57 MB)

Exploring the Salience of Occupational Identification Targets and Turning Points in Nurses’ Career Trajectories

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posted on 2019-08-15, 18:38 authored by Jennifer K PtacekJennifer K Ptacek

Nursing is one of the most important professions in the United States but it has historically endured high levels of shortage and turnover (Apker, Propp, & Ford, 2009; Fox & Abrahamson, 2009). A nurse’s organizational climate and culture have been shown to impact a number of job outcomes including intention to leave the organization (Aiken & Patrician, 2000), and therefore is of interest to both scholars and practitioners alike. One way to understand the context in which nurses work is through organizational identification because people make sense of their own identities in part through the organizations to which they belong (Kuhn & Nelson, 2002). However, because individuals have various identities which can reinforce but at times conflict with each other (Scott et al., 1999) and the strength of these identities can dictate outcomes such as performance (Trybou, Gemmel, Pauwels, Henninck, & Clays, 2013), it is necessary to explore how nurses connect to different identities and social collectives (e.g., team, organization, and occupation/profession) within their work. Further, these connections with the multiplicities of identifications may help explain the decisions that guide nurses’ career trajectories as well as how the perceived identity of a nurse guides individuals to choose a career in nursing. This project seeks to understand how nurses talk about their jobs and how communicating with other nurses influences their career trajectory and decision to stay in or leave their organization or the nursing profession altogether.

This project draws upon both social identity theory and self-categorization theory to help explain how nurses communicate and situate themselves among others in their workplaces. Social identity theory and self-categorization theory are suited for this study’s social constructionist approach and the topic of this research because they explain how the strength and multiplicities of identification within an organization are constructed and shaped by communication with others. Data collection methods for this study consist of in-depth interviews with nurses of specific licensures, posts collected online from a nurse discussion forum, and a questionnaire of nurse forum participants. This study applies a mixed methods approach consisting of qualitative and quantitative analyses. In doing so, this project contributes in several ways including extending our understanding of (1) the connections between the multiplicities of identification; (2) how nurses construct meaning in their jobs to guide career decisions; (3) the nature of nurses’ interactions in online spaces; (4) nurse career decisions; and (5) nurses’ perceptions of the nursing profession before entering the profession.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Communication

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Stacey L. Connaughton

Additional Committee Member 2

Patrice M. Buzzanell

Additional Committee Member 3

Natalie Lambert

Additional Committee Member 4

Kathleen Abrahamson

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