Virtual Nursing Practice and Culture: Shaping Our Place in Cyberspace

June Kaminski, RN MSN PhD(c)

Editor in Charge of Virtual Practice and Culture

Kaminski, J. (February 2004). Virtual Nursing Practice and Culture: Shaping Our Place in Cyberspace. Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI). Vol. 8, No. 1. [Online]. Available at

The virtual environment is evolving into a context for professional collaboration, content exchange, mentorship and creative endeavors. Cyberspace is becoming an accessible place for the building of intellectual assets, where knowledge can be effectively identified, distributed and shared with peers. Nursing professionals are joining this growing evolution in a number of different ways. Nursing research and experiential papers focused on the use of virtual environments in these contexts provide insight into this developing phenomenon. Communities can amplify innovation – when groups become aware of what they can do online, they go beyond problem-solving and start inventing together.

Many professionals work hard to shape at least some of cyberspace into a milieu for activism; to inform about crucial social issues, to educate and act as advocates to help people to use their minds and voices to shape their world. Nursing supports all of these proactive endeavors, but how involved are we in these online activities?

A Breeding Ground for Brilliance

The Internet has been described as the greatest social network known to date. One of the most powerful social implications of computer-mediated communication is the potential to support interaction in unbounded social networks. Key benefits of these networks include accelerated knowledge transfer, including tacit knowledge, agility and productivity, creativity and professional optimization.

Creativity, interaction/sharing, and innovation are also offshoots of virtual professional networks or communities of practice. Innovation usually manifests as a fluid, open, diverse, unpredictable and dynamic process. The advances of communications and information technologies have created entirely new vectors for opportunity for fostering innovation. The Internet has become a prime motivator and catalyst for innovation. This is partly due to its enormous role in promoting the dissemination of massive amounts of information on a global scale. Specialized knowledge becomes more mainstream, stimulating new thinking and ways of looking at things and ideas. We need to articulate how the ingenuity and insight of nurses are being voiced and demonstrated within the online medium.

Cultural Insights and Communities of Practice

Communities of practice – distributed groups of people who share a concern, set of problems, mandate or sense of purpose, are of particular importance to the realm of virtual nursing practice and culture. Communities of practice complement existing structures by promoting collaboration, information exchange, and sharing of best practices across boundaries of time, space, and organizational hierarchies. Members are informally bound together by shared expertise and a passion for a joint enterprise.

Modern technological advances and a drive to connect have helped to shape and forge the cultivation of professional communities of practice. Within this theme, we will explore the question “How is the essence of this connecting expressed and made visible for nurses?”

The Sense of Place and Space

One unique phenomenon that serves as a foundation for a study of virtual culture is the dwelling place, the actual social space that is perceived within the online environment. The online environment provides a different dimension of topos or “place,” a common place in a known or imagined terrain that people can share as speaker, co-creator and audience. It is useful to explore how research, ontology and epistemology are applied to the context of cyberspace: to digest the nuances of working deeply with the essence and time/space anomalies of the virtual environment. An initial understanding of the unique qualities of participating within a space that is literally “not there” yet exists as a tangible experience, should be one goal of our investigative inquiry.

The essence of virtual culture is an elusive phenomenon that has to be experienced to be understood. Although people have used writing to communicate for several centuries, the interaction afforded by cyberspace is perceived as new, as different and unique. Some have likened it to the oral traditions embraced by people before writing became the norm, yet it uses writing or typing on a computer keyboard as its medium.

Nursing informatics is advanced by exploring the ways that nurses are shaping and contributing to the virtual environment – as professionals, peers, disseminators of health information and client education, researchers, advocates and activists. This focus also illuminates the culture that permeates and fuels these activities, and supports ways to identify, describe and cultivate a culture of nursing informatics that uses the virtual environment as a context.