A Critical Review of 5 Nursing Journal Editorials on the Topic of Nursology

A recent CINAHL search with the keyword “Nursology” revealed 5 editorials in leading nursing journals that focus on acquainting the journal’s readers with the website and the initiative.  Not surprisingly, 3 of those editors were founding members of the Nursology.net website. Each shared a different aspect of the project.

Jacqueline Fawcett is the facilitator of the Nursology website management team.  In her guest editorial in the Journal of Advanced Nursing,1 she briefly reviewed the history of the term and argued for its revival, citing a previous published work.2 “Use of the term, nursology for the discipline,” she and colleagues had noted in 2015,  “avoids the tautology of using the word, nursing, as the label for the discipline and as a concept of our metaparadigm.” In other words, it identifies and distinguishes what nurses know(nursology) from what nurses do(nursing) by using different words.  Fawcett also identified possible disadvantages of a change in terminology, such as causing confusion, or interfering with progress made towards the goal of increasing the number of baccalaureate prepared nurses, although she did not elaborate on how. Fawcett went on to describe the formation of the website and outlined some of its contents: nursological philosophies, theories, and conceptual models with exemplars of the use of nursing theories in practice, education, and research; a history of disciplinary knowledge development; identification of past landmark events and future nursology-focused events, and resources. She concluded by giving examples of the positive feedback about the website that has been received and inviting readers to champion nursology as a disciplinary name or to offer alternative ideas.

Peggy Chinn is the webmaster of Nursology.net.  Her editorial introduces an issue of Advances in Nursing Science3 for which a call had been issued for articles addressing the focus of the discipline.  She noted this was in part to acknowledge that approximately 50 years had passed since a series of conferences had been initiated to explore the nature, focus, and future of disciplinary knowledge. The issue also appeared a few weeks before a similar conference, held at Case Western Reserve to commemorate those 50 years, and within months of the founding of Nursology.net. Chinn emphasized the nurse-led, nurse-developed nature of the site and  described it as providing “the most current and accurate information about nursing discipline-specific knowledge that advances human betterment globally.” She listed the assumptions and principles that guide the project: that nursology is a distinct discipline, vital to human health; is multidimensional bringing together diverse philosophical and theoretic perspectives; is autonomous and makes a unique contribution to health care; and that although nursology interacts with other disciplines cooperatively and collaboratively, it remains distinct and autonomous because it reflects the distinct perspective arising from caring in the human health experience. Chinn concluded by noting that these assumptions both shape the focus of the discipline and suggest issues that deserve serious consideration and discussion “not to achieve consensus but to appreciate the range of possibilities and diversities that inform and shape our discipline.” Whereas Chinn’s editorial highlights the philosophical underpinnings and beliefs that support the neurology.net initiative, it does not elaborate in detail on what ANS readers might expect to find on the site. 

 Jane Flanagan is a member of the Nursology.net management team and editor of the International Journal of Nursing Knowledge. She noted in her editorial4 that  the Nursology.net website is in keeping with the vision of the American Academy of Nursing Theory Guided Practice Expert Panel and described the purpose of the website is “to further the goals of what all of us as nurses are hoping to achieve…to explore the boundaries of nursing science and move that conversation in to a sphere where it reaches many.”  Flanagan noted the initial intent of the website- to be attractive, easy to read, and “overflowing with substance.” She indicated her hope that it will be a significant source of information for all nurses and those interested in nursing and invited feedback and participation of readers in contributing materials, blogs, and comments. She briefly described various sections of the site to provide examples of the resources that might be helpful to readers. Flanagan concluded by highlighting some of the similar reasons that Fawcett gave in her editorial for identifying the name of the discipline as nursology and those who practice, teach, or research disciplinary knowledge as nursologists. She noted, “ the name itself separates us from the stereotype and the reality in some quarters that we are handmaidens to physicians.” Flanagan’s editorial was the first to be published of all 5 editorials, just a month after the launch of the nursology.net website.  While she could have, perhaps, given more details about site contents, she does direct readers to the website for further information.  Her  palpable excitement at being “on the ground floor” of this project will probably encourage them to do so! 

The 3 editorials from members of the nursology.net management team were, as might be expected, exceedingly positive about the site and the initiative.  Two editorials were written by nursing editors who were not part of the Nursology.net management team. While their perspectives vary considerably, they may offer the most substantive perspectives and may prompt further serious and extensive discussion of these issues.

Rosemarie Rizzo Parse’s editorial in Nursing Science Quarterly5 did not share the excitement and optimism evident in the above editorials.  Her understanding of the goal of the website is “to change the name of the discipline of nursing”. She commented favorably on the site’s “décor” but misleadingly reduced its content to a blog, “where contributors continue to add any material they wish without support evidence for the change.”  It is unfortunate that the readers of NSQ are not informed of the stated mission and purpose  of the website, which include developing a repository of nursing knowledge, disseminating that knowledge, and encouraging collaboration among nursing scholars. Currently the website profiles 45 nursing theories, ranging from conceptual frameworks to situation-specific theories, with the Theory of Humanbecoming among them. Parse posited that efforts would be better directed at “making nursing science the hallmark of the discipline” and then asked a number of important questions about what such a change would mean, including how nursing educational programs could base courses on nursing knowledge when there is pressure by accrediting agencies to include more medical-bio-behavioral content. It is not clear how she sees that conundrum being addressed by either term,  nursology or nursing science. Despite having acknowledged that the “proposed change is consistent with O’Toole’s statement  in Mosby’s Medical Dictionary,” the editorial concluded that the change in name ”lacks semantic consistency with disciplinary knowledge and upends logical coherence.”

Sally Thorne’s editorial in Nursing Inquiry,6 begins with her admission of having a long-standing discomfort with the term “Nursing Science”, first because it sounds like a qualifier to science, “as if nurses take part in a skewed, partial, or watered-down version of the scientific enterprise,” and secondly, because the term nursing science has largely been used to describe nursing theorizing, rather than “formal scientific investigation.” Thorne contextualized the introduction of the Nursology.net website as a response from nursing thought leaders arising from their shared awareness and concerns of external pressures that are increasingly shaping nursing and threatening the further advancement of the discipline, and provided readers of Nursing Inquiry with citations of articles exploring the implications of those pressures for the preservation of “core disciplinary knowledge.” Thorne noted the term, Nursology, has been used in nursing literature at least as early as 1971 and, although she confessed to some discomfort with using the term, preferring to use “the study of nursing”, she enthusiastically endorsed the direction  the conversations that have led to the Nursology.net initiative have taken. She concluded that she will be watching the Nursology.net conversation with great excitement, “hoping that it attracts the attention, engagement, and dialogue it deserves, and that it helps bring a new generation of nurses back into an appreciative understanding of why the study of nursing really matters.”

I think I can speak on behalf of the Nursology.net management team in saying, we share that hope! And, I would ask if “ology” refers to “the study of” and is widely used by many other disciplines, e.g, pharmacology, biology, why is there such a hesitancy (I’ve experienced it in talking to other nurses about neurology as well) to use nursology to refer to the unique body of knowledge that is nursing knowledge?  Is it simply prudent caution to make the change for the reasons a number of the editors raised? To what extent does it feel pretentious, i.e., have we internalized a broader societal message that our body of knowledge is not as substantial or valuable as those of other fields? Is this another manifestation of “I’m just a nurse?” And/or, is it simply that it’s new and unfamiliar?

  1. Fawcett J. Nursology revisted and revived. J Adv Nurs. 2019; 1(2):1-2.
  2. Fawcett J, Aronowitz T, AbuFannouneh A, et al. Thoughts about the Name of Our Discipline. Nurs Sci Q.2015;28(4):330-333.
  3. Chinn PL. Introducing Nursology.net. ANS Adv Nurs Sci.2019;42(Jan-Mar):1.
  4. Flanagan J. Nursology – a Site by nurses, for nurses. Int J Nurs Knowl.2018;29(4).
  5. Parse RR. Nursology: What’s in a Name? Nurs Sci Q.2019;32(2):93-94.
  6. Thorne S. The study of nursing. Nurs Inq.2019;26(1):1-2.

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “A Critical Review of 5 Nursing Journal Editorials on the Topic of Nursology

  1. Spot on.
    Why the hesitancy (to embrace the word ‘nursology’)?
    Change is hard, interests are entrenched, fears are clutched.
    Nursing culture has been perverted by powerlessness and passivity, which exists throughout the continuum of its knowledge and practice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the excitement over the new language.
    Sorry to point out the typo in the 4th paragraph, the third sentence from the end: “launch of the neurology.net website”. Probably got lost in the excitement of it all!

    Like

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