Student response to a doctoral “Knowledge Development in Nursing” course

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing PhD program offers a required course entitled Knowledge Development in Nursing. In the Fall 2018 semester, the course was co-taught by Dr. Anne Ersig and Dr. Danny Willis. The course examines the history of knowledge development in the discipline of nursing. PhD students are prepared to understand nursing philosophical perspectives; scientific thinking; conceptual models; conceptual analysis; grand, middle-range, and situation-specific theory; the nature, sources, syntax, and development of knowledge in the discipline.

One of the major strengths we witnessed in co-teaching the Knowledge Development in Nursing course together is the diversity of perspectives and ways of knowing that the students were exposed to given our complementary ways of approaching our phenomenon of interest (see more about our own approaches below). We were inspired every time the course met. The students enrolled in our course represented life experience and perspectives from around the world – China, Jordan, South Korea, Turkey, Uganda, and the United States. It was such a wonderful experience! We were particularly moved by Yuanyuan Jin’s reflection on her learning journey through the Knowledge Development in Nursing course and felt compelled to ask her to share her story with When we asked YuanYuan, she commented to Dr. Willis that she hopes to be one of the future professors and leaders in nursing theory and knowledge development for the future. We could not have been prouder to hear this as it offers hope for the future of our discipline. Enjoy Yuanyuan’s reflection as much as we did!!

Question: Reflect on how your thinking about your identity as a nurse scholar and researcher has evolved over this semester. How do you think this might influence your future as a nurse scholar?

Yuanyuan Jin, MSN, RN, PhD student

For me, this was a very short but intensive semester. I guess I will never say that the 4-year nursing PhD program is too long again!

I greatly appreciated the learning experience in N815 (Knowledge Development in Nursing) during the 15 weeks. In short, it was like a journey. Dan and Anne took us to a place where we have heard of and never been there before. We were curious about everything we saw during this journey. Local people in that place communicated with each other by using a language we were not familiar with and sometimes we even had difficulty understanding their dialogue. But Dan and Anne were very good guides and interpreters, they gave us a lot of important resources and information to help us understand the history of this place, where the local people came from, what they are doing there, and where they are heading to.

The place we went to is called Nursing Knowledge Development, the local people were the theorists like Dr. Fawcett, Dr. Chinn, Dr. Roy, Dr. Rogers, Dr. Johnson and many other nursing scientists who have/had dedicated themselves to nursing knowledge development. The language we had difficulty understanding including metaparadigm, paradigm, philosophies, conceptual models, theories, empirical indicators, ontology and epistemology, etc. The resources and information Dan and Anne gave to us were readings before the class, explanations during the class and summaries after the class. The history of Nursing Knowledge Development was that nursing used to be a task-oriented occupation, subservient to medicine with little autonomy and had no place in the academic setting. During the mid-twentieth century and the years that followed, nursing leaders in the US saw theory development as a means of firmly establishing nursing as a profession. Therefore, they are developing a unique body of nursing knowledge and using nursing theory to guide professional practice and making contribution to the health and wellbeing of people.

I like the analogy of journey because firstly, not every nurse/nursing student has the chance to go on this kind of trip (i.e., he/she is not exposed to nursing theory development), and secondly, when we are back from our trip, we can always share our experience with those who have been or have never been to that place. One big new thing I learned from this course is that we do need theory to guide our research intervention, and also how to select an appropriate theory and how to integrate theories if we are using more than one theory — this is very important. In the future, I still need to dig into how to align the theory with research question and research design and how to correctly synthesize different concepts in different theories.

Therefore, the end of the course of N815 is the very beginning of my nursing scholarship. I will be more eager and open to discussions about nursing knowledge development; I will take the responsibility to reduce people’s stereotype that nurses are just assistants of doctors; I will de-mystify theory and sensitize people to the significance of theory in their research and practice; and I will carry on nursing theorists’ lifelong learning spirits and cultivate my own academic expertise so as to contribute to the nursing knowledge development.

About the Professors’ Research

Dr. Willis has a program of research focused on explicating mental health, wellbeing, and healing for boys and men in the aftermath of experiencing traumatic and marginalizing situations of violence and abuse, primarily using qualitative approaches to knowledge development.  Dr. Willis positions his work in the central unifying focus of the discipline/values of humanization, meaning, choice, quality of life, and healing in living and dying (Willis, Grace, & Roy , 2008). In terms of nursing conceptual models and theories, his work is closely aligned with Watson’s Unitary Caring Science (Watson, 2018) and Rogers’ Science of Unitary Human Beings (Rogers, 1992). Within nursing paradigms, he locates his work within the unitary-transformative perspective (Newman, 1997) with its focus on pattern recognition and caring-healing for unitary human beings in mutual process with their environments.

Dr. Ersig’s program of research focuses on chronic stress among children, adolescents, and young adults with chronic health conditions, including biological stress and genetic influences on the human response to stress. Dr. Ersig aligns her work with Roy’s Adaptation Model. She identifies strongly with Roy’s delineation of the physiological, self-concept, role function, and interdependence modes. Roy’s model provides essential support for Dr. Ersig’s inclusion of physiological, biological, and genetic measures in her work. To obtain a more holistic view of individuals, families, and the broader social context, Dr. Ersig also incorporates measures of psychological and behavioral responses to stress.