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Nursology, Nursing, Nursologist, and Nurse: An Invitation to Dialogue about Disciplinary Terms

The management team is issuing an invitation to all readers of this website to engage in a timely dialogue about increasing our discipline’s value to the public and ourselves by changing our name to nursology and by referring to at least some, if not all, members of the discipline as nursologists. Please engage in this dialogue by using the “reply” space at the bottom of this page.

The name change is proposed to clearly reflect our continuous contributions to discovery, dissemination, and application of the discipline-specific knowledge needed to promote the wellbecoming of individuals, families, communities, and populations and to formulate policies for the betterment of human beings worldwide.

Since the launching of,on September 18, 2018, there has been an enthusiastic embrace of the website, and many nurses and members of the general public are receptive to the term nursology. Others have expressed concern about changing the name of our discipline from nursing to nursology and perhaps to changing the label for the members of our discipline from nurse to nursologist. The management team members agree that these differences of opinion warrant dialogue. Links to earlier blogs that addressed this issue are:

The purpose of this page is to provide an initial forum for dialogue about the most appropriate terms for our discipline and for the members of our discipline as we continue to advance knowledge to promote human wellbecoming within the context of a healthcare system characterized by new challenges every day. The dialogue is to focus on use of the terms, nursology, nursing, nursologist, and nurse within the context of four questions:

  1. What is the most appropriate term for our discipline—nursing or nursology?
  2. What is the most appropriate term for the members of our discipline—nurses or nursologists?
  3. What values are inherent in each term?
  4. Which terms hold the most potential to advance our discipline?

The responses of four management team members are given here.

What is the most appropriate term for our discipline—nursing or nursology?

Marlaine Smith: I think the discipline is nursing and the study of the disciplinary knowledge is nursology.

Peggy Chinn: I definitely support the term “nursology” as the term for our discipline. I believe that making this shift will take time – the more we use it, the more it seem “natural” and not “strange” – and it will no longer elicit the questions “why?” and “what does this mean?” So this forum is going to be important moving forward.

Marian Turkel: When I first heard of the word Nursology I was excited about the use of the term for the discipline of nursing as both a way to define nursing knowledge and as a tribute to the early work of Dr. Paterson (1978) and Dr. Zderad (1978), who identified themselves as Nursologists while working in the practice setting at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Northport, New York. They were true visionaries and leaders within the discipline. I remember when we started the discussion of the term Nursology on, very early on I wrote the I was proud to be a “Nursologist”. I received some very negative feedback from scholars I respect and then I began to question the use of the term nursology as a way to define our discipline. If not all scholars are in alignment with this name change should it occur? If I as a researcher and Caring Science Scholar believe in this terminology but receive negative feedback from peers related to the term nursology how will RNs in the practice setting react to the name change? We still have Diploma and Associate Degree nursing programs in our country that focus only on tasks, procedures, and minimal or no linkage to nursing knowledge? Nurses in practice especially those without advanced degrees often regard those of us in academia as “out of touch” with day to day nursing practice when their world is high nurse-patient ratios, critique from physicians, colleagues, patients and their families, and nursing leaders that I think they will react negatively to the word nursology as a way of defining the discipline.

Jacqueline Fawcett: I am fully committed to nursology as the appropriate and proper name for our discipline. I have defined nursology as “knowledge of the phenomena of interest to nursologists, which are [what, why, when, where, and how] nursologists collaborate with other human beings as they experience wellness, illness, and disease, within the context of their environments (Fawcett, 2019, p. 919). My recent experiences of interacting with staff nurses in a small medical center and a skilled nursing facility,(SNF), both in mid-coast (relatively rural) Maine, during my husband’s hospitalization and subsequent need for rehabilitation at the SNF following a fall that resulted in a fracture of the proximal end of his left humerus, indicate that nurses are receptive to nursology as the proper name for our discipline. Perhaps they were being polite to the wife of a patient, although they projected interest in nursology as the name for our discipline. Earlier experiences with members of the general public also indicate receptivity to nursology as the proper name for our discipline.

What is the most appropriate term for members of our discipline-nurses or nursologists?

Marlaine Smith: Nursologists are those studying this body of knowledge – those who are testing or generating nursing theory.

Marian Turkel: If we move forward to the use of the word nursologist, is this only for nurses with advanced degrees (PhD, EdD, DNS/DNSc, DNP)? Other practice disciplines such as psychology (psychologist), sociology (sociologist), psychiatry (psychiatrist), radiology (radiologist) oncology (oncologist), require the terminal degree. Would only members of our discipline with a terminal research degree (PhD, DNS/DNSc, EdD)  or a terminal practice degree (DNP) be referred to as nursologists? The knowledge base of a DNP holder is practice focused, and the knowledge base of a PhD, DNS/DNSc, or EdD holder research and nursing theory focused. Does this matter?

Jacqueline Fawcett: I maintain that all nurses, regardless of educational and/or practical experience, are nursologists. Recently, a staff nurse who is a man, told me that he would much rather be called a nursologist than a male nurse; he regarded nursologist as the proper name for members of our discipline. We may think of some as novice nursologists and others as expert nursologists (see Benner, 1982). We also may think of some nursologists as specialists from various nursology discipline-specific perspectives as, for example, adaptation nursologists (Roy’s adaptation model) or Rogerian nursologists (Rogers’ science of unitary human beings) or behavioral system nursologists (Johnson’s behavioral system model). In a 2018 blog, I had asked, “What do you think nursology-specific specialties should be? Should we continue with the status quo of using the same terms as does medicine with the added value of the context of nursological conceptual models and theories? Or, should we finally be bold and use the language of our nursological conceptual models and theories to name and structure our specialties?” (

Peggy Chinn: As with all identifying labels, I believe that each person needs to select what they want to be called. Since our “name” (in response to “what do you do?”) also has implications for how the public sees us, we have a challenge to introduce the public to this terminology – and sometimes it will depend on the context. But the more we each use this (nursologist) to identify who we are, the more it will become accepted!

What values are inherent in each term?

Marian Turkel: The term nurse and nursologist share many of the same values such as caring, compassion, presence, healing, human health experience, knowing patient as person, understanding what matters most to the patient and family. If the term Nursologist was only for research degree holder registered nurses would this divide the discipline?

Marlaine Smith: The value of honoring our past with preserving the language of “nursing” and “nurse” is important. Also, the value of being clear and comprehensible to the public is important. The value of using nursology is to have a word that captures the study of the cumulative body of disciplinary knowledge.

Peggy Chinn: This is very complex, and some of the values that are inherent in the term “nursing” are very dear and central to who we are. The most common value that is associated with almost any use of the term “nursing” is so important – the value of a nurturing, protecting, and caring connection. Nursology conveys a focus on reasoned, scientific knowledge – actions that are founded on systematic logic and empirical evidence. I sense that there are some who think the term ‘nursology’ implies moving away from the personal, artful foundation of the discipline. However, the root “nurse” remains in the term “nursology” and it is up to us to make sure that the values that are near and dear to foundational values of our discipline remain front and center.

Jacqueline Fawcett: I agree with Peggy Chinn that we must not lose the essence of our discipline when we use the term nursology. However, I do not believe that that essence is lost when we refer to the discipline as nursology. The major value is that we are finally recognized as a legitimate discipline in the ivory towers of the academy and in “real world” of practice. We have long argued that we are not “handmaidens to physicians,” so it is, I maintain, time to clearly and explicitly assert our right as a discipline and our members as knowledge workers.

Which terms hold the most potential to advance our discipline?

Marian Turkel: From a disciplinary perspective the terms Nursology, Nursing Theory, Disciplinary Specific Knowledge will advance the discipline and then the discipline will inform the profession.

Marlaine Smith: I’m not sure that using nursology will advance our discipline. However, I love the website’s title because it is the repository for the study of nursing knowledge.

Peggy Chinn: Definitely the term “nursology” holds great potential to advance our discipline. It is “new” and draws attention to our identity. It definitely prompts the kind of discussion we are having here. Most important, it moves away from the connotations of term “nursing” that refer to things other than our profession – not because those meanings are “bad” but because they distract from conveying the meanings embedded in our discipline.

Jacqueline Fawcett: I first became aware of nursing as a discipline in the now classic 1978 paper by Donaldson and Crowley,” The discipline of nursing,” which was based on their 1977 keynote address at a Western Council on Higher Education for Nursing (WCHEN) conference. I first became aware of nurses being called nursologists at another 1977 conference (National League for Nursing, 1978), although I must confess that I did not remember that Paterson and Zderad held that label until I joined a group of PhD students and a faculty colleague to write about nursology (Fawcett et al., 2015 – see. I am certain that our discipline will best be served as we evolve by calling the discipline nursology and our members nursologists. I certainly respect the views of others, although I maintain that the time must be NOW to use the terms nursology and nursologist.

In conclusion . . .

We four management team members are convinced that the appropriate name of our discipline and the label used to refer to our members matter. Continued dialogue targeted to understanding the implications of name and label is imperative. We very much welcome your responses to each of the four questions and reasons for your preferences for terms.


 Benner, P. (1982). From novice to expert. American Journal of Nursing, 82, 402-207.

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

Fawcett, J. (2019). Nursology revisited and revived [Editorial]. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 75, 919-920.

Fawcett, J., Aronowitz, T., AbuFannouneh, A., Al Usta, M., Fraley, H. E., Howlett, M. S. L., . . . Zhang, Y. (2015). Thoughts about the name of our discipline. Nursing Science Quarterly, 28, 330-333.

Theory development: What, why, how? (1978). Papers from a 1977 Conference. National League for Nursing. Publication No. 15-1708.

Paterson, J. G. (1078). The tortuous way toward nursing theory: Reflections on “how.” In Theory development: What, why, how? (pp. 49-65). National League for Nursing. Publication No. 15-1708.

Zderad, L. (1978). From here and now to theory: Reflections on “how.” In Theory development: What, why, how? (pp. 35-48).  National League for Nursing. Publication No. 15-1708.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

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