Nursing is a Discipline–Donaldson and Crowley Notable Work

Notable Works

The first time that I understood that nursing – what we now call nursology (Fawcett, 2018; Fawcett et al., 2015) – is a discipline was in 1978 when I read the just published Donaldson and Crowley’s now classic journal article, “The discipline of nursing.” My pride in what we are has always been great, so realizing that we are members of a discipline increased my pride from great to greater. I should note that at the time of publication of the Donaldson and Crowley (1978) paper, I did not know about Moore’s 1968 paper, “Nursing: A scientific discipline?” which certainly was due to my admittedly sloppy scholarship!

Sue Donaldson

As I continued to think about nursology as a discipline, I realized I needed to determine the accepted definition of the word. I found that the term, discipline, comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning a branch of instruction or learning (Stein, 1966). Disciplines are distinguished by the subject matter of interest to its members (Schwab, 1962; Walton & Kuethe, 1963). Disciplines are a way of organizing knowledge; they have utility as administrative structures for education.

Donaldson and Crowley’s (1978) article is especially important for their telling us what we are all about. They pointed out, “At least since the time of Nightingale, there has been a remarkable consistency in the recurrent themes that [nursologist] scholars use to explain what they conceive to be the essence of the core of [nursology].” (p. 113). They identified the three general themes listed below. So influential were these themes to me that they became the first version of the relational propositions for my version of our disciplinary metaparadigm (Fawcett, 1984).

*Concern with principles and laws that govern the life processes, well –being, and optimum functions of human beings—sick or well

*Concern with the patterning of human behavior in interaction with the environment in critical life situations

*Concern with the processes by which positive changes in health status are affected. (Donaldson & Crowley, 1978, p 113)

Donaldson and Crowley (1978) identified two types of disciplines– academic and professional. They maintained that nurses (nursologists) are members of a professional discipline and, as such, nursologists have a social mandate to not only develop and disseminate knowledge, but also to use the knowledge in service to human beings. Members of academic disciplines, in contrast, develop and disseminate knowledge but do not have a social mandate to use the knowledge in service to anyone or anything.

Donaldson and Crowley’s (1978) claim that we are members of a professional discipline led me to search for a definition of a profession. I found that the term, profession, refers to a vocation requiring knowledge of some branch of learning (Stein, 1966). Obviously, the emphasis in the definitions of both discipline and profession is knowledge.

As can be seen in the diagram below, which was inspired by Donaldson and Crowley’s (1978) ideas about a professional discipline, I envision the components of the professional discipline of nursology to be science and the profession. For nursology, science encompasses eight types of knowledge—empirical, aesthetic, ethical, personal knowing, sociopolitical, emancipatory, spiritual, and unknowing, too (Carper, 1978; Chinn & Kramer, 2018; Munhall, 1993; White, 1995; Willis & Leone-Sheehan, 2019). Discovery and dissemination of knowledge is accomplished by means of the conduct and publication of the results of scholarly inquiry, including basic, applied, and clinical research (Donaldson & Crowley, 1978), as well as translational research (Wendler et al., 2013). Utilization of knowledge is accomplished by means of implementing the results of translational research into clinical practice activities as well as into educational programs and administration of nursology services.

The double-headed arrows in the diagram indicate that there is a reciprocal relation between science and the profession; between discovery and dissemination of knowledge and utilization of that knowledge; and between scholarly inquiry and practice. Ultimately, the results of utilization of disciplinary knowledge in practice are used to advance the scholarly inquiry that is required for further discovery and dissemination of knowledge.

Moore (1968) and Donaldson and Crowley (1978) indicated that scholarly inquiry guides practice. Thus, the starting point for the reciprocal relation between scholarly inquiry and practice always is scholarly inquiry. Some nursologists may disagree, maintaining that ideas for scholarly inquiry arise from problems encountered in practice. However, Donaldson and Crowley (1978) maintained that “the discipline of [nursology] should be governing clinical practice rather than being defined by it” (p. 118). They went on to explain,

Of necessity, clinical practice focuses on the individual in the here and now who has a problem requiring relevant and appropriate actions. The discipline, in contrast, embodies a knowledge base relevant to all realms of professional practice and which links the past, present and future. Its scope goes far beyond that required for current clinical practice. If the discipline were so narrowly defined, professional [nursology] could be limited to functioning in the realm of disaster relief rather than serving as a force in the promotion of world health. (p 118)

The major impact of Donaldson and Crowley’s (1978) artice is that understanding and recognizing that nursologists are members of a discipline provides the rationale for our place in the academy of higher education among other widely and long-recognized disciplines. Moreover and perhaps most important, are Donaldson and Crowley” (1978) closing words:

For the continued growth, significance, and utility of the discipline of [nursology], researchers must place their research within the context of the discipline. Theories must also be viewed in terms of the basic structural conceptualizations of the discipline [i.e., our nursology conceptual models]. The responsibility for revising and clarifying the structural conceptions, the very framework, of the discipline of [nursology] rests with [nursologist] researchers. This means lessening our preoccupation with the process of [nursology practice] and pedagogy and placing emphasis on content as substance. (p. 120).

Content as substance was, of course, the reason for creation of


Carper, B. A. (1978). Fundamental patterns of knowing in nursing. Advances in Nursing Science, 1(1), 13-23.

Chinn, P. L., & Kramer, M. K. (2018). Knowledge development in nursing: Theory and process (10th ed.). Elsevier Mosby.

Donaldson, S. K., & Crowley, D. M. (1978). The discipline of nursing. Nursing Outlook, 26(2), 113-120

Fawcett, J. (1984). The metaparadigm of nursing: Present status and future refinements. Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 16(3), 84 87.Fawcett, J. (2018, September 24). Our Name: Why Nursology? Why .net?

Fawcett, J., Aronowitz, T., AbuFannouneh, A., Al Usta, M., Fraley, H. E., Howlett, M. S. L, Mtengezo, J. T., Muchira, J. M., Nava, A., Thapa, S., & Zhang, Y. (2015). Thoughts about the name of our discipline. Nursing Science Quarterly, 28(4), 330-333. doi: 10.1177/0894318415599224

Moore, M. A. (1968) Nursing: a scientific discipline? Nursing Forum, 7(4), 340-348. (Reprinted Nursing Forum, 1993, 28(1), 28-31.)

Munhall PL. (1993). “Unknowing”: toward another pattern of knowing in nursing. Nursing Outlook, 41(3), 125–128.
Schwab, J. (1962). The concept of the structure of a discipline. Educational Record, 43(July), 197-204.

Stein, J. (Ed.). (1966). The Random House dictionary of the English language (Unabridged ed.). Random House.

Walton, J., & Kuethe, J. L. (Eds.). (1963). The discipline of education. University of Wisconsin Press.

Wendler, M. C., Kirkbride, G., Wade, K., & Ferrell, L. (2013). Translational research: A concept analysis. Research & Theory for Nursing Practice, 27(3), 214–232. DOI: 10.1891/1541-6577.27.3.214

White, J. (1995). Patterns of knowing: Review, critique, and update. Advances in Nursing Science, 17(4), 73-86.

Willis, D. G., & Leone-Sheehan, D. M. (2019). Spiritual knowing; Another pattern of knowing in the discipline. Advances in Nursing Science, 42(1), 58-68. doi: 10.1097/ANS.0000000000000236

6 thoughts on “Nursing is a Discipline–Donaldson and Crowley Notable Work

  1. Thanks and congratulations for these reflections and citations!
    I like to stress and support this sentence: “The discipline, in contrast, embodies a KNOWLEDGE BASE relevant to all realms of professional practice and which links the past, present and future. Its scope goes far beyond that required for current clinical practice”.

    Indeed it’s important to not – as lately in fashion – just let practice guide research or even set standards without a sound research base.

    Nurses and neurologists do well by accepting that research goes ahead and should guide practice (not the other way around). Unfortunately, we see all too often how unreflected practice steers to come up with so-called “practice-oriented standards” that sometimes even put patients at risk.

    Yes, nursing is a professional discipline that links science and the profession. Thanks for the revised figure!


  2. For some heretofore unclear reason, I have never relied on the Donaldson and Crowley approach to nursing as a discipline. On reading this blogpost, I think I am beginning to understand my reluctance. It is the assertion of “either/or’s”. Although I was “raised” in a positivist paradigm that I adopted, soon after completing degrees in nursing and psychology, I was introduced to a human science approach and over the course of a couple of years, I experienced (literally) a paradigm shift to a constructivist paradigm. So while I appreciate the awakening Donaldson and Crowley brought to nursing in 1978, I still can’t buy it in 2021 (even though ii recognize that it continues to influence nursing thought).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Savina, Thank you for your comment. What do you suggest/recommend for the 2021 and byond version of nursololgy? Do you agree with Donalson and Crowley’s basic premise that nursology (nursing) is a discipline?


  3. This blog, each blog, has been enlightening. I still find myself conflicted on whether research guides practice or if practice provides researchers the question. I think in terms of wound care as a nursing problem that nurse researchers studied for a better path for wound care. If I had not witnessed and been the target of workplace bullying, I would not have wanted to describe its effects on novice nurses, just as Kramer and Benner looking for the better way in educating nurses from novice to a higher level of expert through education, research, and astute observation. I will have to think on this blog, reread the references, and push for a more comprehensive understanding for myself.


  4. Thank you for your comment. I regard practice as at least sometimes being the catalyst for resarch questions. The fidings of the research then represent the theory that henceforth guides practice and what happens in practice informs researcher abotu the extent to which the theory is an adequate guide for practice.


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