Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A taxonomy of nursing care organization models in hospitals

Carl-Ardy Dubois1*, Danielle D’Amour1, Eric Tchouaket2, Michèle Rivard3, Sean Clarke4 and Régis Blais5

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Nursing Sciences, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada

2 Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Sherbrooke, Longueuil, Canada

3 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada

4 RBC Chair in Cardiovascular Nursing Research, University of Toronto and University Health Network, Toronto, Canada

5 Department of Health Administration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:286  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-286

Published: 28 August 2012



Over the last decades, converging forces in hospital care, including cost-containment policies, rising healthcare demands and nursing shortages, have driven the search for new operational models of nursing care delivery that maximize the use of available nursing resources while ensuring safe, high-quality care. Little is known, however, about the distinctive features of these emergent nursing care models. This article contributes to filling this gap by presenting a theoretically and empirically grounded taxonomy of nursing care organization models in the context of acute care units in Quebec and comparing their distinctive features.


This study was based on a survey of 22 medical units in 11 acute care facilities in Quebec. Data collection methods included questionnaire, interviews, focus groups and administrative data census. The analytical procedures consisted of first generating unit profiles based on qualitative and quantitative data collected at the unit level, then applying hierarchical cluster analysis to the units’ profile data.


The study identified four models of nursing care organization: two professional models that draw mainly on registered nurses as professionals to deliver nursing services and reflect stronger support to nurses’ professional practice, and two functional models that draw more significantly on licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and assistive staff (orderlies) to deliver nursing services and are characterized by registered nurses’ perceptions that the practice environment is less supportive of their professional work.


This study showed that medical units in acute care hospitals exhibit diverse staff mixes, patterns of skill use, work environment design, and support for innovation. The four models reflect not only distinct approaches to dealing with the numerous constraints in the nursing care environment, but also different degrees of approximations to an “ideal” nursing professional practice model described by some leaders in the contemporary nursing literature. While the two professional models appear closer to this ideal, the two functional models are farther removed.