Abstract Thoughts with Aphantasia: Learning Nursing Theory without the Ability to Imagine

Guest contributor: Elizabeth “Ellis” Meiser, MSN, RN-BC, CNE

            When I took a nursing theory course for the first time in my educational experience (at the doctorate level, mind you), I found myself grateful to finally be able to identify what may make learning theory difficult for me. A few years ago I was listening to a podcast in my car from the BBC. It began with a discussion on spatial navigation and transitioned into mental visualization. The topic was on how some people have a limited ability to imagine. The podcast asked listeners to close their eyes (I waited until I got to my destination to complete the exercise, don’t worry!) and picture a beach. Go ahead and do this if you can. Close your eyes and call to mind beautiful white sand, a palm tree, blue waves crashing under a clear blue sky. I settled into my seat and closed my eyes. But when I tried to see a beach, nothing happened. It was then I realized that I had a processing condition called aphantasia.

            Individuals with aphantasia have difficulty imagining visually. For me, it means when I close my eyes all that happens is I stop seeing. Most people are on a spectrum of capability when it comes to visualization. Some can recall only things they have seen before, for some it may appear like something from a cartoon, and for others it is as realistic as if it were before their eyes. Perhaps it seems shocking that I would not be aware of this until my mid-twenties, but how often does it come up in conversation? I suppose I always thought when someone said “mind’s eye” or that they could “picture it” these were expressions but that they couldn’t actually do it. Turns out, most people can actually picture things when my mind is woefully dark. With an impact on my ability to remember things, I just always assumed I had a poor memory.

My lifelong struggle with having to learn about and analyze abstract ideas suddenly made sense! The blog posts from Dr. Foli and Shannon Constantinides about the concerns with teaching theory in nursing education, along with the potential impact of generational differences, jumpstarted my questioning of my own journey through abstract learning. I cannot envision physical things, words, shapes, or even colors. Without those capabilities, I wonder: what could be the main factor impacting my ability to truly grasp abstract concepts? There could even be a combination of many contributing factors. Then I wondered, does it even matter? Why do I even need to understand theories?

As I mentioned, I’ve been through nearly ten years of formal education for nursing and cannot recall a course dedicated to nursing theory. I became faculty armed with a master’s in nursing leadership and management and a handful of education classes from my music education undergrad. I had been exposed to Piaget’s developmental theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I knew how to write objectives using Blooms, and in my master’s had been introduced to a variety of leadership theories. I had not, however, explored anything on Benner, Henderson, or even anything beyond the fact that Nightingale had something to do with a lamp. I didn’t even know nursing theories existed, and when presented with them in my doctorate program, I struggled understanding them and their purpose. However, in my practice of simulation, I have recognized the impact of Jefferies on how frameworks can guide development of scenarios. I have embraced Benner by recognizing how to consider the learners, where they are within the program, and within their own growth process. Much of this required me to evaluate how to learn abstract concepts.

Ultimately, a huge hurdle on abstract thought for me must involve aphantasia, which presents for me as the inability to daydream and the absence of visual recollection. It can be hard for me to remember what I’ve read or seen. As a learner, and now as a nursing educator, I feel as if it is taken for granted that all learners have the capacity to visualize mental images. Despite this having implications for learning, aphantasia is not currently considered a learning disability. Furthermore, there has been no progress on aiding those with aphantasia in developing the ability to produce mental imagery as it seems to be a neurological deficit. I am unsure of whether identifying students with aphantasia, or to what extent they are capable of visualizing, is important. Instead, what we need to do is create a holistic learning environment that is accessible to a variety of learners and learners need to be equipped with tools that suit their learning style. Using varied education techniques to address learning styles has long since been routine, but how often have we considered the student’s ability for mental imagery? How are we sharing abstract ideas? Is it in a tangible way? Do we encourage students to reflect on how they think, process, and picture things? Perhaps we need to consider adding this to the conversation to help students assess their learning needs before we begin introducing abstract concepts.

When it comes to theory, abstract instruction, or other types of instruction, I have found myself having to use a range of resources. For example, graphs, images, and diagrams may help explain concepts, but they are difficult to recall as I cannot recreate them in my mind. Instead, I found myself using a mixture of media, videos, and having to use my trusty gel pens and notebook paper. As it is in any pool of learners, these will have different effects for different learners but include:

  • Make personal or emotional links to content
    • I find relating theories to stories extremely helpful. This means grounding abstract ideas to something that I can relate to, or experience.
  • Listen to podcasts or a recording of a lecture
    • This may be difficult for some with aphantasia as there is no visual imagery to which to connect the audio.
  • Write notes and draw concept maps on paper to physically forge connections
    • An age-old recommendation that should never have been replaced by typing and is even more effective when summarizing in my own words.
  • Use Flash cards, mnemonics or other rote memory tasks
    • While I can’t bring these to mind at a later date, I can force memorize the basic concepts before scaffolding the more abstract ones.
  • Involve music or rhythm
    • Again, this is helpful for the more basic concepts. However, there has been some evidence of links between those with aphantasia also having difficulty remembering sounds, tones, or music so this is very dependent on ability.
  • Teaching others or simply reading notes out loud
    • Yet another traditional method of evaluating learning and using kinesthetics and physicality to the party. When I get lost in reading about theory, I find that reading it out loud helps me stay on track.

It is crucial to remember that while linking learning to visual memory reportedly leads to better academic outcomes, it does not equate to higher intelligence. It certainly has an impact, but it is not the only variable to consider. Reflecting on how important the mind’s eye is to learning leads me to wonder how different schooling would have been had I known about aphantasia. For myself, I can apply it to what remains of my terminal degree and my continued lifelong learning. For others, I can write about its impact and attempt to add to the discussion on what influences how, when, and to whom we teach nursing theory and knowledge. Ultimately, we need to work with all learners to be advocates for what they need to succeed regardless of the topic at hand.

About Elizabeth “Ellis” Meiser

Ellis is a Clinical Educator of Nursing at Longwood University in Farmville, VA. They have their MSN with a focus on leadership and management, is a Certified Nurse Educator, and is certified in medical-surgical nursing. They are in their first year as a doctoral student in the online EdD Nursing Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Being True to Yourself: A Career as a Nurse Educator Guided by Critical Caring Pedagogy

Guest Contributor: Erin Dolen, MS, RN, CNE*

My career in nursing education has spanned the better part of a decade. For the majority of that time, I taught in an associate’s degree nursing program. At first, I was not sure if nursing education was for me. I was always a preceptor on the nursing units during my time in the hospitals, but that does not necessarily equate to being a good educator. After a semester, I was hooked. I found so much joy in showing my students not just how to do nursing, but how to be nurses. Forget “teaching to the test”! I would teach through experience, stories, relationships, respect, and caring.

Over the years, I thought I was developing into an expert nurse educator. I obtained my MSN, I passed my Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam, and I achieved quite a following among the student body. Until one day, it all changed. I was accused of being too personal, too attached to my stories and experiences, too outward in my sharing. I couldn’t understand why this faculty member was attacking me for being who I am, for valuing my relationship with my students, for giving them a part of me so they know I am human too. The lateral violence (let’s face it, that is what it was) became too much and I decided to move on to where I currently am, a baccalaureate nursing program.

My world has changed. I am now valued for giving my students everything that I have. For sharing not just my experiences but who I am as a person, a nurse, a mom, a friend. I care about them, and they know this. I want them to succeed beyond all ways they could imagine. I want them to learn from me; not just how to be a nurse but how to be someone who cares, who is empathetic, moral, ethical, a life-long learner, and is committed to the profession of nursing. Through my own education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University in the Online Nursing Education EdD program, now I know why. My whole nursing education career I have been guided by the Critical Caring Pedagogy (CCP).

CCP provides a framework for nursing education that, all at once, encompasses ontology, epistemology, ethics, and praxis (Chinn & Falk-Rafael, 2018). This framework consists of seven critical caring health-promoting processes: preparing oneself to be in relation, developing and maintaining trusting-helping relationships, using a systematic reflective approach to caring, transpersonal teaching-learning, creating and supporting sustainable environments, meeting needs and building capacity of students, and being open and attending to spiritual-mysterious and existential dimensions (Chinn & Falk-Rafael, 2018).

Isn’t this what I have been doing all along? All seven?! I have just come to the realization that my own practice as a nurse educator for the last decade has consisted of being in a caring and guiding relationship with my students, the foundation of CCP. I have been guided by a theory I had no formal knowledge of until now. And yet, I was faulted for it. Told I was giving too much of myself to my students. Told that I was to teach the material, not cultivate relationships. Told I made the two students out of HUNDREDS uncomfortable (yes, you guessed it, these students were academically unsuccessful and reaching for reasons for their appeal to be upheld). I almost gave up teaching. I knew I could not work in an environment that did not support my own values and approach to the teaching-learning relationship. Until I moved into my current position, where my foundation in CCP is respected, appreciated, and celebrated. To where my colleagues also practice with the guidance of CCP, whether they know it or not.

Now I can put into words what I have felt all along. Thank you, Peggy Chinn and Adeline Falk-Rafael, for providing the framework and empirics to support what I felt was the right way to teach deep down in my core. Critical Caring Pedagogy has given my teaching practice meaning and validity. I will carry this knowledge with me wherever I go, and I will never give up teaching.


Chinn, P.L. & Falk-Rafael, A. (2018). Embracing the focus of the discipline of nursing: Critical caring pedagogy. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 50(6), 687-694. Doi: 10.1111/jnu.12426

*About Guest Contributor Erin Dolen
E Dolen Picture

Erin is an Assistant Professor of Practice at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY. She is a doctoral student in the EdD Nursing Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has her MSN with a focus in Nursing Education from Excelsior College. Erin has her national certification as a Certified Nurse Educator. Her nursing background is in emergency medicine. She lives in Delmar, NY with her husband and two children.

A Nurse Practitioner’s Perspectives on Theory in Practice

Guest Post
Welcome  to Guest Contributor Christine Platt, NP-C*,

PhD Student at the University of Arizona College of Nursing

This week I asked, why does nursing theory matter to me? Can I see it directly affect my practice? As a nurse practitioner I see, on average, 26 patients each clinic day. Nursing theory helps define who I am as a nurse and what my goals are as a professional. It also can be evident in the way I give care at the bedside or even the way I influence health policies and practices of my community.

To begin, let’s look at what nursing is not. When discussing primary care, it is easy to think about making a diagnosis and then prescribing medication or a procedure to fix the disease. While these aspects may play a role in nurse practitioner practice, they don’t encompass the professional advanced practice of nursing. Without theory, the focus of our practice could easily become too narrow or lack the direction to influence and promote well-being. For example, let’s take the act of treating acne in a clinic. Without a disciplinary perspective, a nurse practitioner (NP) could easily look at the papules and pustules and determine an antibiotic, retinoid, hormonal control (such as spironolactone or oral birth control) will decrease the papules. If the acne is recalcitrant or scarring, the NP may decide isotretinoin is the best course of action. Without theory, we treat diseases instead of the patient and our communities.

Now, let’s contrast the same situation using our unique disciplinary perspective in our practice. Looking holistically, the NP notes that the patient won’t look them in the eyes very often, they seem withdrawn, which could be due to the embarrassment that the acne is causing. As the NP listens and learns more about the patient, they realize that the patient is depressed, has recently had suicidal ideation, and the patient’s current living conditions are stressful with a poor diet. Moreover, the acne flares significantly during weather inversions that increase pollution and aggregate the patient’s asthma. Nursing is not simply writing a prescription for isotretinoin.

Nursing has helped define our profession as a wholistic one that considers the person, environment, and nursing care to improve health (Fawcett, 1984). Nursing is further assessing the patient’s safety, linking them to the right mental health provider, improving diet, while simultaneously developing a relationship of trust. It does involve treating the acne, but it is so much more than the ability to write a prescription or plan of care. It involves understanding the patient’s culture, their beliefs, and the barriers to improved care. As more and more nurses are prepared at the PhD and DNP levels, they have a great opportunity to conduct research and implement change in practice. They continue to evolve the discipline from the original metaparadigm concepts toward the development and use of middle range theories, which are more specific to the problems they are investigating to guide their work. With their specialized knowledge, they influence change at community, state, national, and even global levels. The broad influence of theory translating into practice is evident when browsing over any national nursing conference program. With the case of the acne patient, NPs may take their experiences and develop studies with PhD and DNP nurses who focus on research and quality improvement projects. They can present their findings to legislators on asthma, acne, pollution, and poor nutrition, as a means of decreasing all of these in the community. They develop algorithms for treating acne combined with depression or other diseases.

Next time you come into contact with a patient, reflect on your nursing perspective in addition to all the specialized knowledge you have. Then think about how more specific theories could facilitate your practice, or maybe they are already embedded in your practice, ready to be articulated more explicitly, tested, and further refined. One of my favorite nursing theorist noted, “Nursing is not only a professional practice, it is a scientific practice as well (Reed, 2019).” Theory-based practice is essential and should be included in how we provide and deliver care on a daily basis. However, it is also time to consider how our professional practice can influence and improve our theories. If you have had an experience similar to mine, please share in the comments. I am excited to take part in this process and look forward to hearing how other nurse practitioners translate theory into practice and their practice into theory.


Fawcett, J. (1984). The Metaparadigm of Nursing: Present Status and Future Refinements. Image: the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 16(3), 84-87. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1547-5069.1984.tb01393.x

Reed, G. P. (2019). Intermodernism: A Philosophical Perspective for Development of Scientific Nursing Theory. Advances in Nursing Science, 42(1), 17-27. https://doi.org/10.1097/ANS.0000000000000249

About Christine Platt

Christine Platt, MSN, PHN, FNP-C began her career in nursing as a registered public health nurse and hospital staff nurse in St. Paul, MN. She became a critical care RN working in both cardiac and neuro intensive care units and received her CCRN certification after moving to Utah in 2006. She took on the role of house supervisor before returning to graduate school at Brigham Young University, where she received her MSN degree to become a family nurse practitioner. Currently, she sees patients in dermatology and also volunteers in the evenings to serve the community’s under- or un-insured population. Her family is a licensed foster family, caring for medically fragile children over the last decade. As a second-year PhD student at the University of Arizona, she has two areas of research, which span her clinical practice of dermatology and her passion for helping children with disabilities in the U.S. foster care system.

Power in Nursing

Power has been a concern to all living beings – humans and animals – since the beginning of time. Nursologists have been sensitive to power issues at least since Florence Nightingale’s time. It is likely, however, that power has different meanings for different people, including those who hold positions associated with power and those who regard themselves as subjected to power and may think they are powerless.

Very specific meanings of power are evident in a nursology theory developed by Elizabeth Barrett and a nursology theory developed by Peggy Chinn. Elizabeth Barrett developed the theory of power as knowing participation in change. This theory focuses on power-as-freedom, which contrasts with power-as-control. Barrett (2010) explained that power-as-freedom comes from and is associated with participating knowingly in life changes.

Peggy Chinn developed the theory of peace and power. This theory focuses on peace-power, which contrasts with power-over. Chinn (2018) explained, “This theory provides a framework for individuals and groups to shape their actions and interactions to promote health and well being for the group and for each individual, using processes based on values of cooperation and inclusion of all points of view in making decisions and in addressing conflicts.

My interpretation of these theories is that both emphasize power as a beneficial attribute that enables the individual or group to thrive and evolve, as opposed to power as a detrimental attribute that often prevents others from thriving and evolving. But what, I wondered, are meanings of power held by other nursologists?

St. Mary’s College Campus (from http://www.st-mary.ac.jp/about/)

Therefore, I invited graduate students at St. Mary’s College School of Nursing in Kurume, Japan, where I am a visiting professor, to share their meanings of power. I asked the students to respond to two questions:

  • How do you define power?
  • How does power affect what you think and do as a nursologist

The students’ responses are given here. I am indebted to Eric Fortin, who is a faculty member at St. Mary’s College School of Nursing, for translating the students’ responses from Japanese to English. (See notes below for more information about St. Mary’s College School of Nursing)

How do you define power?

Yukari Shitaki wrote: Power is generally defined as authority, motive power, energy, and so on. In nursing, I think that there are many things that are demonstrated through relationships among people, such as manpower, empowerment, and power augmentation, which improve technical skills and abilities. In addition, I think that the way people, whether individuals, groups, or society at large, perceive that power changes according to the situation at any particular time. Therefore, for me, power is defined as the force in the fellowship among people that produces synergistic effects and is further demonstrated through the interactions among them.

Kiyoko Tanaka wrote: We as nursologists work to maintain and promote human health, prevent health problems, create an environment that promotes health, and share and resolve issues related to the destruction of the natural environment and the deterioration of the social environment. In contrast, nursology is caring and has the power to realize and maintain a peaceful human society by fulfilling its role

Yoko Hashimoto wrote: In Japan, some nurses work in the government as licensed nurses and are involved in devising national policies. Many other nurses are involved with patients and local residents in hospitals and communities. Nurses see problems and other issues in their daily practice. Therefore, as nurses, we are working to improve the quality of nursing to solve these issues. I believe that nurses consider motivation and the ability to improve the quality of nursing to be power

Risa Fujimoto wrote: I think that nursologists’ power can be defined as action. As nursologists, everything should be done for the patient. It is very important to possess the ability to do something useful for people and to act on and realize what we want to do, including even little things. I also think that studying at graduate school may be the first step that will lead to having the power of a nursologist.

Saki Higashi wrote: The power of a nursologist for me is defined as the ability to constantly grow from the soul and to spread that around to others. I categorize power into three aspects. The first is the core, the second is influences absorbed from one’s surroundings, and the third is action. The core is latent and spiritual and includes one’s thoughts on nursing. The aspect of power that is absorbed from one’s surroundings is the power that can exert influence and that can be taken in from all external stimuli such as patients and other staff through one’s experiences of being a nursologist. Action is the aspect of power that derives from what has been cultivated up to now, including from the first and second aspects, and it works by giving back what has been absorbed from others through one’s practice and by diffusing one’s own power to those around us. Power is not always constant, but fluctuates; and power, although being influenced by others, also gives of itself and continues to grow.

How does power affect what you think and do as a nursologist?

Yukari Shitaki wrote: The reason I wanted to raise the level of my expertise was that I strongly believe in the importance of education. In my work environment as a perinatal nursologist, I encounter situations in which induced abortions are easily requested due to undesired, unexpected, or young pregnancies. One of the reasons for this involves the issue of sex education. I have thought about what I could do to change the consciousness of the women in these cases by inculcating in them the value of life and the desire to protect its dignity. It is difficult to face such a problem through one individual’s power alone, so it is necessary to first acquire the ability to judge the essence of one’s role as a professional and to think about what kind of method is possible to implement an action from an educational perspective. I also think it is possible to augment an individual’s power by utilizing the power of a larger group through fellowship with its members, and thereby be better able to put necessary actions into practice.

Kiyoko Tanaka wrote: As a pediatric nurse, I realize that the family is very important in child development. If families cannot fully understand children with developmental disabilities and cannot understand the characteristics of their own children, it will not be possible to support those children, and it will be difficult to expand their possibilities with adequate developmental support. It will also be difficult to improve their future health in connection with possible secondary disabilities. The risk of ruining a healthy life can also develop. Conversely, with regard to the mental health of parents, especially mothers, of children with developmental disabilities, feelings of difficulty in raising these c)hildren have led to depression and reduced self-esteem. Based on this situation, we, as nursologists have the power of specialized knowledge to offer counseling, guidance, and a positive nursing environment for children with developmental disabilities and their families in cooperation with related organizations such as prefectures, municipalities, hospitals, and schools. We can also provide information about services available for children with developmental disabilities and their families so that they can maintain, promote, recover from, and prevent illness. In addition, we believe that such support will promote the health of caregivers, promote a better understanding of children with developmental disabilities, and lead to their healthy development.

Yoko Hashimoto wrote: Japan has had a background of advanced medical care catering to the needs of an aging society having an increasingly long lifespan, and medical care is moving from the hospital to the home. However, there are few nurses who are practicing in the field of home nursing, so evidence in this field is weak and, therefore, has failed to lead to policies. In the future, it will be necessary to conduct research and establish evidence for issues arising from daily practice to provide high-quality nursing in response to social changes. It is difficult to act alone, so it is necessary to become involved with others and to work together. Through the power of nurses, nursing practice will be better visualized, which will hopefully allow it to occupy a more important position among government circles, thus leading to improved nursing and medical care.

Risa Fujimoto wrote: For nursologists, power is the ability to help people by being useful to them. In my clinical experience, I often wondered whether I could really help others or if there was something more I could do for them. Therefore, I decided to undertake graduate study with the goal of improving my knowledge level and nursologists’ practice skills. As a rehabilitation nurse, I want to become a nursologist with a wide range of knowledge and be involved in primary through tertiary stroke prevention. We can only become useful to people by taking action and practicing what we know. However, to take action, we cannot act entirely alone; we need the knowledge and skills of other nursologists. Personally, if I obtain enough knowledge in graduate school, I am confident that I will have to play a role in creating an opportunity for many nursologists to understand the value of nursology. So, I think that that would be one of my responsibilities as a nursologist. As a practitioner, I will keep in my heart and mind what I believe to be useful for people and will work to obtain knowledge and skills so that I can better perform the actions of a nursologist.

Saki Higashi wrote: Power influences my activities as a nursologist. In the future, by incorporating my experiences and various influences from the external environment and applying them to my nursology activities, I am confident that I will not only grow as a nursologist, but also expand my influence to people, regions, countries, and the world at large.


Barrett, E. (2010). Power as knowing participation in change: What’s new and what’s next. Nursing Science Quarterly, 23(1), 47-54. doi:10.1177/0894318409353797 

Chinn, P. L. (2018, August 23). Peace & Power. Retrieved from https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/peace-power/

Chinn, P. L., & Falk-Rafael, A. R. (2015). Peace and power: A theory of emancipatory group process. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 47, 62–69.

More about St. Mary”s College School of Nursing on Nursology.net

Who IS the First?

What is Real Nursing and Who Are Real Nurses? Perspectives from Japan

Throwing Shade at Nursing Theory: a Millennial’s Perspective

Welcome to Shannon Constantinides,
who is joining the Nursology.net blogging team!
Shannon also contributed the content on
Jane Georges’ Theory of Emancipatory Compassion

Dear Colleagues,

Shannon Constantinides

As a current PhD candidate (Yay! I’m making progress) and experienced NP of about a decade (Yikes! Time flies!), I have a few thoughts on Dr. Foli’s well articulated post and associated call for action/ questions regarding nursing theory in academics. It is with a great reverence for the bright minds of this community that I share these ideas with you all. Please consider my comments simply for no more than what they are: some thoughts from a novice scholar (who happens to be a millennial).

First, the humor and humility with which Dr. Foli broached the topic of “nursing students throwing shade at nursing theory” made her post fun to read and so relatable!

Second, and not entirely related to the topic at hand (which I’ll get to), as an NP who often precepts students, I loved the question posed to students, “Are you running from something in your current job, or running toward a goal of being a nurse practitioner?” I think probably too often nurses go to NP (Nurse Practitioner) school without a clear idea of what the role and day-to-day of the job entails. On a number of occasions, I’ve gently refused to write letters of recommendation to NP school for newly graduated BSN students, because I truly believe that the knowledge and experience gained by working as a nurse is beyond measure. First and foremost, NPs are nurses. I can’t underscore enough the importance of building a strong professional foundation. Equally as important is taking the time and opportunities to explore the endless possibilities that come with nursing practice (finding what sets one’s soul on fire, so to speak). I think this goes for new-grad RNs who are fixated on any one speciality, as well. I would not be on the path that has lead me down my professional and academic journey without first practicing in a number of areas (being in the military made this an easy possibility). Having experience in a number of areas has been invaluable to my career as an APN – clinically and in broadening my understanding healthcare systems and the lived experience of health, itself.

Third, I think the struggle to connect theory to practice comes from a few places. Overall, however, I think it may be time we re-envision and modernize how we approach teaching theory, in the first place. We did this for clinical practice, right? How many of our colleagues ever trained in a sim lab, for example? Updating the what, how, and environment in which we teach doesn’t have to be limited to the parameters of the clinical side of practice. I think the sample principles apply to teaching theory, especially if we want students to learn how to integrate the two. So a few thoughts…

Why is there SO MUCH reading!?

I’ve deduced that what has seemed like an ungodly amount of reading over the course of my education has served the following purposes: 1) taught me the practical knowledge needed not kill my patients (literally), 2) exposed me to new ideas, and 3) exercised my brain and made it grow in its ability to comprehend complex and abstract ideas – just like exercising a muscle.

In regard to the amount of reading that goes along with nursing education: I had NO idea! And I say that as a naturally voracious reader who grew up in a home that purposely had no tv! Honestly, I think 99.99% of students have no idea what they’re getting into when they sign up for nursing education – at any place on the educational spectrum. Students need to be reassured, probably on repeat, that the reading has a purpose. As much as the discourse in nursing espouses that we ascribe to the anti-handholding/ law-of-equal-suffering/ eat-our-young narrative, reassuring your students is more than being nice or helpful. On a deeper level, reassuring your students demonstrates the ethics of compassion and caring that is preached in the pedagogy of the discipline.

To that point, your millennial students will also to be curious as to why you’ve selected specific reading material. I’m not saying you need to, or should, justify each reading assignment. However, giving students a general idea of why certain material is important, especially for theory and philosophy, will help create a connection to the content. I say this with love for my generation, but millennials (and post-millennials) are a different animal. We’re a “special” breed, if you will. We have been raised to question everything. Every. Thing. It’s in our DNA. And you’re just in luck, because there’s A LOT of us! By many accounts, we’re the largest generation in history! (That is, millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996, and post-millennials – people born between 1997 and the present day).

Now, to that point, let’s not also forget that the frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until late adolescence/ early adulthood. So, some of your students who are innately left-brained, “linear” thinkers (who, inherently, may have a harder time wrapping their heads around some of the non-linear concepts in theory and philosophy), will also be young, concrete thinkers. Their brains literally have just only developed to a point of abstract thinking understanding the basic concepts related to the more esoteric ideas we talk about in theory. And this issue is compounded by unique educational, professional, and personal backgrounds and upbringings of each student.

For example, it wasn’t until my masters-level (and more so, PhD) studies, that I really started understanding some of the more abstruse, Delphic concepts in nursing theory. As a BSN and MSN grad of the CU system, I naturally gravitated to Watson’s work – but generally – the more experienced I became professionally, academically, and in life, the more I came to understand the “other” theories I was learning about in school. As an 18-year-old, direct-entry BSN student I could understand (because I saw a way to concretely apply) Orem’s self care theory, Leininger’s cultural care theory, or Carper’s Pattens of Knowing (and, yes, I now know and understand why Carper said in a 2015 interview with Eisenhauer that her work was never meant to be a theory – but try telling that to a young, brand-new, nursing student! There’s no denying a certain level of concreteness to aspects of Carper’s work. This is something I love about Carper’s model – she wanted it to be readily tangible to the user, and it is!)

In reality, it’s taken me nearly two decades to “get the hang of nursing theory” and be able to digest and truly understand the works of such thinkers as Rogers, Patterson and Zderad, or Newman. Or actually appreciate the depth, intricacy, salience, and beauty of Watson’s work. In fact, as a BSN student, I remember sitting in a guest-lecture with Dr. Newman, and being the left-brainer that I am, raised my hand said, “Um, Dr. Newman, I don’t get it…” Looking back, I’m still mortified by this encounter! I was THAT student (insert #facepalm here!).


So, really, it’s taken the better part of my adult life to develop the intellectual ability and emotional maturity needed to sit with and understand complex ideas. There are articles, book chapters, and entire texts I now consider the Holy Grail, which when I first read them specifically remember thinking, “WT_?? Is this even in English???” And to that point: don’t forget that your students are literally learning new languages! They’re not only learning the technical language of healthcare, but also the language the informs the epistemology of nursing. So, again, I think showing your students a little patience, forgiving, and compassionate grace is key.

Likewise, it’s my opinion that once we get to a certain point in our careers (as a clinicians, scholars, educators, administrators, etc.) we take for granted knowledge that has become second-nature. I can say, with complete certainty, that I fall prey to this with my own clinical NP students. What do you mean you don’t have a clear, concise, and evidence-based plan for managing your older adult patient who has insanely complicated medial, psycho-emotional, and social needs?? We have to remember that knowledge for students – whether clinical or related to theory and philosophy – is often entirely new or being presented at a depth they weren’t expected to go to in the past. In addition, with APN students where we’re building off the knowledge and experience that comes from working as an RN and RN education. As far as theory and philosophy are concerned – that knowledge is really complicated, is often brand-new, and often isn’t intuitively grounded in day-to-day nursing work and education. Your students are learning new stuff, a new language, and and learning to think in an entirely different way. Patience is key. Finding a way to foster connection to the content is key. My suggestion would be to keep Benner’s Novice-to-Expert model in the forefront of your minds when you’re working with students – especially when it comes to teaching theory and philosophy.

Middle range theory & the ladder of abstraction.

I think a lot of students aren’t exposed to middle-range theories. This statement is, of course, purely based off anecdote consisting of my own academic and professional experiences, and what sound to be similar experiences shared by my colleagues. It’s my opinion that middle-range theory may an optimal place to bridge the theory-practice gap. Certainly, this bridge will be influenced by the paradigm framing the theory or the paradigm to that which the nurse knowingly or unknowingly ascribes. However, as Smith and Liehr (2014) stated, middle range theories are more straightforward and lie in-between that which is all-inclusive and that which is highly situation-specific. In this regard, a few exemplars that made sense to me and my peers included Story Theory, the Theory of Unpleasant Symptoms, and the Theory of Caregiving Dynamics.

I also think teaching the levels of theory abstraction as described by Smith and Liehr, even at the BSN level, could help make a little more sense of nursing theory in terms of applicability. Do I apply this theory at the bedside? In a specific situation? Does it guide a certain aspect of my practice? Or, is it something that will guide the entirety of how I approach practice, patients, and the general experience of health?

I think it’s so tempting to start off with the classics: the grand nursing theories. But honestly, some (ok, basically all) of those theories are super complicated! For your newer, less experienced learners, maybe initially include something a little more concrete, like a micro theory? Help your students dip their toes in the water, so to speak, rather than throwing them directly into the deep end. I think a lot of harm can be done when faculty knowingly or unknowingly teach at a level that is over the students’ heads. Your students will get there, trust me, but keep it simple in the beginning. Help your students build a strong foundation. You’d do the same with patient care knowledge and skills, right? So, same idea for nursing theory.

Aging-out and aging-into the current sociopolitical & cultural context

I can’t stress this enough: nursing faculty have a critical place not only as clinical and scholarly role models, but in modeling the language and behavior of advocates and voice-givers. When I started my BSN in 2000, and even by the time I graduated with my NP in 2011,  I didn’t really know what social justice was. I couldn’t really answer the question, “What are you doing to be an advocate?” Over the course of my PhD program, however (and thankfully so), I’ve had the amazing fortune to work with and be mentored by some exceptionally stellar minds in my quest to figure out my place as an advocate and voice-giver (especially Dr’s Peggy Chinn, Patricia Liehr, Jane Georges, Debra Hain and Deb D’Avolio… to name a few). And, boy, do I wish I’d had a social justice/ emancipatory focused curriculum as a BSN or MSN student, like our students do at FAU!

So how does this relate to teaching theory? As feminist Holly Whitaker (2019) wrote in her book, “Quit Like a Woman,” we are now, likely more so than ever, aware of our own oppression, the oppression of others, and aware of how our actions or inactions have abetted the oppression and marginalization of others. Whitaker states, and I whole-heartedly agree, that thanks to movements started by the LGBTQIA community, radical feminists, and women of color, our common vernacular now includes words like privilege, misogyny, and patriarchy. (I would also add terms like toxic masculinity and inclusivity). Likewise, I contend that our language reflects a paradigmatic shift that is occurring in society: we are moving toward a more humanistic way in how we view and interact with others. For example, we’re moving away from socially constructed and derogatory descriptors. Rather than calling someone “disabled” we acknowledge that the individual is of other-ability. Rather than being called “elderly” or “geriatric” we honor the experience that comes with older adulthood. We recognize that someone is involved in “sex work” is a “sex worker,” not a “prostitute.” We now see that the term “violence against women” is problematic in that it is passive and alleviates the blame of the perpetrator.

Students, especially millennials, are probably hip to these issues and this type of language, but this is not an assumption to make. It is your responsibility as a faculty member to stay informed and engaged in this regard. Just like you would teach from a place of best evidence regarding clinical practice and patient care, stay up to date on what’s going on in the world, the language being used, and the issues that matter to your students.

The good news is that we now have theories and books that are grounded in a social-justice paradigm! Take, for example, Georges’ (2013) Emancipatory Theory of Compassion (or really, any of Dr. Georges’ work dealing with the nature of human suffering). I adore Georges’ work (and work she’s done collaboratively with Dr. Susan Benedict) for a number of reasons, especially how she takes the concept of suffering head-on, and calls out nursing in regard to the profession’s historical (and generally unspoken) complicit involvement in oppression. Intentionally moving away from the traditional, Western narrative that has a propensity for the patriarchy, Georges’ work focuses instead on alleviating suffering through compassion, empowerment, and deconstruction of power relations. Falk-Rafael’s Critical Caring model, for example, also goes in this direction as it looks at role power relations have in public health outcomes. Likewise, I consider Kagan, Smith, and Chinn’s (2016) Philosophies and Practices of Emancipatory Nursing, and the works there within, a critical must-read for anyone wanting to study or practice nursing theory in context of today’s sociopolitical climate. To that point, a quick search on Amazon revealed a number of nursing textbooks centered around contemporary theory-based approaches for caring for vulnerable populations, approaches to healthcare policy, and approaches for healthcare advocacy.

And, to very briefly touch on the topic of technology in nursing theory: if your students are my age (I’m 37) or younger, we never knew what it was like to live without technology (let alone practice nursing without computers, smart phones, apps, EHRs, or the internet!). My husband, a physician (I know, I married the enemy), is 10 years older than me. We work in the same primary care practice. Even though he is fairly tech savvy, it’s astonishing how much longer it takes him to adapt clinical technology compared to those of us in the clinic who are a decade younger. I’m not saying this is true across the spectrum: I absolutely interact with younger clinicians who have less tech know-how than our colleagues a few decades our senior. What I’m saying is that those of us who were born into and grew up practicing nursing in the information age have a different relationship and understanding of healthcare (and view of the world, in general) than those even a decade ahead of us.

Several years ago, at the suggestion of my fairly tech savvy entrepreneur dad, I read “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman. My dad thought this work was incredibly forward-thinking. The concept and manifestation of a globalized humanity secondary to advances in technology was mind-blowing to him. However, I remember thinking, “yeah… so this is not a new thing to me, Dad…” Keep in mind that the world has always looked so different to those of us in the millennial and post-millennial generations. In terms of nursing theory, Watson’s work – I think especially Caring Science as Sacred Science and Unitary Caring Science – both hit the nail on the head in terms of addressing globalization and caring for a global humanity.

Additionally, the exciting thing about nursing theory in the information age is that new theories are emerging to deal with contemporary, tech-related issues! Dr. Rosario Locsin’s Theory of Technological Competency as Caring, for example, is pertinent and relatable for today’s students. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Locsin speak about his theory. I was, again, THAT student. I asked Dr. Locsin, “Are your theory and views on artificial intelligence and humanoids questioning how we define existence?” “No. Not necessarily,” he said, “But what if A.I. develops to the point where it can’t be differentiated from naturally living beings? What if a humanoid develops feelings? Can they develop feelings?” These may sound far-fetched, but the future is not that far away and technology is developing at a screaming pace! The philosophic questions, ethical dilemmas, and reality your students will face in the future will undoubtedly look like something out of a sci-fi novel – and for that I applaud Dr. Locsin for boldly going where no nursing theorist has gone before!

This next statement might be considered heresy, but for the sake of discussion, hear me out: I believe some theories are aging-out, or at least need to update their language. This is absolutely not a dig on older theories: let me be very clear about that! Some of the older theories were the embryonic origins of what, over time, have evolved into modern nursing theory and practice. Due to the social and political culture of the time, and in order to be taken seriously, the structure and verbiage of early nursing theories were informed by a patriarchal/ paternalistic, medical narrative that was dictated by an aristocracy of upper class, white, male physicians, scientists, politicians, and power-elite. People were either ill or well. Self-agency was not a thing if you were not a straight, white, cis-male. Social justice was not a thing. Human rights were not a thing. The right to health was not a thing (and arguably is still not a thing). Hearing the critical voices of underserved, under-represented, vulnerable, or marginalized populations was not a thing. Talking about energy (let alone shared energy) was definitely not a thing – or at least not a thing that was spoken of publicly or in circles of “hard science.” The male doctor gave the female nurse orders, and the female nurse would then perform prescribed actions.

I conducted a review of caring theories as a part of my comprehensive exam last summer. Again, let me be very clear: these theories were crafted by minds much more brilliant than I could ever hope mine to be, and there is indescribable wealth, depth, knowledge, and wisdom imbedded in these works. Truly, many will remain as enduring masterpieces of the discipline, and their authors have become beacons of progressive, forward-though. However. …. However, in conducting this review, I found that a few theories that by their nature of being framed by a context that no longer matches the current sociopolitical and cultural climate, have perpetuated the aforementioned narrative informed by the patriarchy and the notion of power imbalance. I believe this is antithetical to the emancipatory movement we are experiencing in nursing – and society, as a whole – where, for example, the out-dated adage of “enabling” the other should be updated to a focus on empowerment.

So, some closing thoughts:

Your students live and will work in a world that that changing at an unfathomable pace. While I believe that a great many works and ideas in nursing theory and philosophy are truly timeless and relevant, some are not. Stay up to date on what is pertinent and what is being published. Teach the classics, but also teach new, relevant theories. Try new articles. Try new textbooks. Talk to your students about what they think is timely and relevant.

And more importantly …. talk to your students. Connect with them. Millennials, in particular, like to be engaged and involved! Finding innovative and creative ways to connect with your students is especially important with the proliferation of online programs, where many students will never set foot campus. Trust me: your effort in this regard will be well worth it! Whether in the classroom or the online environment, I got the most from faculty who taught from a place of compassion and connection – where they openly and earnestly worked to understand the student perspective and got us involved and invested in what we were learning. In fact, I’m still in touch with a few faculty from both my BSN and MSN programs! (Dr’s Lea Gaydos, Lynne Bryant, Amy Silva-Smith…). Dr. Gaydos and Dr. Bryant were my BSN and MSN theory and philosophy professors, respectively, and were two of the first people I called when I had my first theory-related article published in 2019 in NSQ. It’s been nearly 20 years since I took Dr. Gaydos’ class, and I still have my term paper from that course. All I can say is: what an abomination! I was in tears, laughing, when I reread that “gem” last year!

My point is, these professors planted the seed of interest in nursing scholarship at the doctoral level. You will have THAT student. I was THAT student. Who am I kidding… I’m still THAT student! The student who wants to know “why” about everything. The student who will question everything. The student who will argue every last point on an assignment. Trust me when I say this: no matter how much shade your students throw at theory, you ARE making a difference. Because THAT one student … the one who pushed you and nearly drove you crazy … that student may be the one who grows up and wants to continue this dialogue.

Finally, and most importantly: I truly admire and respect Dr. Foli for putting herself out there. The issue she raises (students throwing shade at nursing theory) is very real and very much alive and well in the world of nursing academics. As Dr. Jane Georges once said to me, “violence can be done to students’ ideas,” and I applaud Dr. Foli in her quest to improve the academic experience for her learners.


Benedict, S. & Georges, JM. Nurses in the Nazi “euthanasia” program. Advances in Nursing Science: 2009; 32(1): 63-74.

Chinn, PL. & Falk-Rafael, A. Embracing the focus of the discipline of nursing: critical caring pedagogy. Journal of Nursing Scholarship: 2018; 50(6): 687-984.

Eisenhauer, ER. An interview with Dr. Barbara Caper. Advances in Nursing Science: 2015; 38(2): 73-81.

Falk-Rafael, A. Nursology: Critical Caring. https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/critical-caring/. Accessed June 2, 2019.

Falk-Rafael, A. Advancing nursing theory through theory-guided practice: the emergence of a critical caring theory. Advances in Nursing Science: 2005; 28(1): 38-49.

Georges, HM. Biopower, compassion, and nursing. In: Philosophies and practices of emancipatory nursing: social justice as praxis. Kagan, PL., Smith, MC., & Chinn, PL. (eds). New York: Routledge; 2014: 51-63.

Georges, JM. An emancipatory theory of compassion for nursing. Advances in Nursing Science: 2013; 36(1): 2-9.

Georges, JM. Evidence of the unspeakable: biopower, compassion, and nursing. Advances in Nursing Science: 2011; 34(2): 130-135.

Georges, JM. Bio-power, Agamben, and emerging nursing knowledge. Advances in Nursing Science: 2008(A); 31(1): 4-12.

Georges, JM. The politics of suffering: implications for nursing science. Advances in Nursing Science: 2004; 27(4): 250-256.

Kagan, P.N., Smith, M.C. & Chinn, P. (eds.) (2014). Philosophies and practices of emancipatory nursing. Routledge.

Lenz, E.R. & Pugh, L.C. (2014). The theory of unpleasant symptoms. In: Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. (Smith, M.J & Liehr, P.R, eds). Springer.

Locsin R. Technological competency as caring in nursing: co-creating moments in nursing occurring within the universal technological domain. The Journal of Theory Construction & Testing: 2016; 20(1): 5-11.

Smith, M.J. & Liehr, P.R. (eds). (2014). Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. Springer.

Smith, M.J. & Liehr, P.R. (2014). Story theory. In: Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. (Smith, M.J & Liehr, P.R, eds). Springer.

Watson, J. Unitary caring science: the philosophy and praxis of nursing. Louisville: The University Press of Colorado; 2018.

Watson, J. Caring science as sacred science. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company; 2005.

Whitaker, H. (2020). Quit like a woman: the radical choice not to drink in a culture obsessed with alcohol. Random House.

Williams, L. (2014). Theory of caregiving dynamics. In: Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. (Smith, M.J & Liehr, P.R, eds). Springer.

Guest Post – The Big, Bad, Terrible Dissertation Defense

Guest Contributor: Ashley Rivera, PhD, RN
See “About the Author” below

“The best thesis defense is a good thesis defense.” Retrieved from https://xkcd.com/1403/.
Comic available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

In my head, I built the entire day up to be a terror of being questioned for every decision I made throughout my study. All the prep-work from making draft revisions and polishing off the speech to accompany my slides did not prepare me for joy. My joy is not about the strength of my study or the loving support that my graduate school, Florida Atlantic University, bestowed upon me during my entire program. It’s about who showed up at my defense.

One of the first to arrive was an entry-level BSN student who had responded to the mass-dispersed open defense email sent out by the College of Nursing. When I was a student, I would probably have just dumped that email in the trash bin. The student who showed up truly felt that in nursing she could achieve anything, which was a refreshing sight to my battle-wounded soul from the years of micro-managing and counterintuitive policies that are experienced on the job. The memory of her being there is a reminder for me that there is a need to shine a light on the quiet strength that comes from being a nurse. This quiet strength is what guides nursing through the bad days, like when four call lights are going off and they all have to be answered in less than 3 minutes, or the code that just won’t end because nobody wants to tell mom her baby won’t be back. I didn’t see her leave, but I remember her clap and the light in her eyes at the end of the defense.

I didn’t think much of it when the crowd of fresh PhD students wandered in, after all, they were in school to do the very same thing. However, the feedback I received from them truly reinforced my passion for teaching. The best part was that the comments didn’t come from them directly, it came from the professor of Qualitative Research. As part of my defense, I explained my choice to use Charmaz’s constructive grounded theory by contrasting it with classic grounded theory and Straussian grounded theory. The professor was thrilled by the explanation I gave. She also stated that the PhD students indicated that my explanation was so clear that they now truly understood the differences between all three approaches to grounded theory. To me, that was the icing on the cake of such a momentous day. Their feedback is the start of my living my dream to inspire passion and clarity for research and theory in classes that so many students describe as the bane of their existence.

Defenses are an opportunity to inspire those who watch and fuel the passion of those who defend. This should be the goal at the end of a very long road in the PhD journey. I wouldn’t take a single step back, but the dissertation defense isn’t so big, bad, or terrible—in fact, it’s probably the most inspiring part of the whole PhD.

The newly minted,
Dr. Ashley Rivera

Left to right: Dr. Marlaine Smith, myself, Dr. Patricia Leihr, and Dr. Yash Bhagwanji

About Dr. Rivera

Ashley Rivera

Not known for being a wall-flower, I believe in the power of a positive attitude and a smile. I keep centered through my loving husband, my three rambunctious children and being outdoors in my organic garden. My practice experience includes Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Liver Transplant, Medical Surgical, High Risk Pregnancy, Diabetic Education, Telemetry, and Epilepsy Monitoring. I started my health care journey as an EMT, but came to love nursing for the continuation of care aspects. I have worked in both inpatient and outpatient at different stages of my nursing journey. I also have experience as adjunct faculty and as a research assistant. I entered the PhD program at Florida Atlantic University in August of 2015 and received a Jonas Scholarship in 2016. In my immediate future, I plan to continue working on getting my dissertation, “The Social Process of Caregiving in Fathers” published, and growing the resulting mid-range theory, “Caregiving in Fathers”. I will be presenting my recruitment methodology at the upcoming K.I.N.G Collaborative Research Conference in D.C. and, eventually, I hope to teach  and accept a full-time position teaching.

What is Real Nursing and Who are Real Nurses? Perspectives from Japan

Thank you to the graduate students and faculty
from St. Mary’s College, Kurume, Japan, who

contributed to this blog!

Hayes (2018) published a thought-provoking article, “Is OR Nursing Real Nursing,” in the September 2018 issue of the Massachusetts Report on Nursing. Her article was the catalyst for my invitation to students enrolled in the Fall 2018 University of Massachusetts Boston PhD Nursing Program course, NURS 750, Contemporary Nursing Knowledge, to join me in sharing our perspectives about “real nursing.” The result was published in the October 2019 issue of Nursing Science Quarterly (Fawcett et al., 2019).

Photo of the Misericordia Bell, The bell, which hangs In the tower of the St. Mary’s College Library, is a symbol of Misericordia et Caritus, which is the founding philosophy of St Mary’s College. Retrieved from http://st-mary-ac.sblo.jp/

This blog has provided an opportunity for six graduate students and three faculty members at St. Mary’s College Graduate School of Nursing, in Kurume, Japan to share their perspectives about “real nursing.” My invitation to them was given as part of a January 2019 video conference lecture I gave in my position as a visiting professor at St. Mary’s College. I am grateful to Eric Fortin, a St. Mary’s College School of Nursing faculty member, for his translation of the students’ and faculty’s contributions from Japanese to English.  Noteworthy is that St. Mary’s College School of Nursing is the first to include nursology as part of the name for their research center–the Roy Academia Nursology Research Center

Graduate Students’ Perspectives

Junko Fukuya: Throughout my nursing career, I have always used a nursing conceptual model to guide care of hospitalized patients from admission to discharge. I would like to become a better nursologist, a “real nurse,” who allows nursing knowledge to permeate my mind and impresses its importance on other nurses.

Akemi Kumashiro: Nursing is practiced in many settings, including clinical agencies and local communities, with people who are well and those who are ill. Real nursing occurs when the nurse continually gains the knowledge and experience required to help people to adapt to a new life style when changes in environment occur.

Takako Shoji: Patients are persons who are important to and loved by someone. By recognizing patients as people with life experiences and families, I do not merely provide knowledge and technology, instead, as a real nurse, I work to establish a relationship with each patient that respects the values he or she has formed through life experiences.

Chizuko Takeishi: The real nurse endeavors to meet the universal needs of individuals, families, groups, and communities of all ages. Real nursing is directed to helping people to make decisions directed toward maintenance and promotion of wellness, prevention of illness, recovery from illness, relief from pain, maintenance of dignity, and promotion of happiness.

Tomomi Yamashita: As a real nurse, I know that patients are waiting for me and support me in establishing mutual and warm relationships. Real nursing involves actions, thoughts, and words that affect patients’ lives. It is a process of talking with patients about their perceived needs and anticipating those needs they have not yet identified.

Yuko Yonezawa: Real nursing involves seeing human beings as holistic beings consisting of body, mind, and spirit, who are deserving of respect and compassion from the very first moment of their existence to the end. Real nursing also involves knowledgeably helping people to help themselves to live their lives how they want.

Faculty Members’ Perspectives

Tsuyako Hidaka, Ikuko Miyabayashi, and Satsuki Obama: As a real nurse, the nursologist interacts with patients while providing daily care and obtains a lot of quantitative and qualitative data as he or she builds therapeutic relationships with patients. These data are the basis for what may be considered “invisible mixed methods nursing research” (Fawcett, 2015). Real nursing is a very noble profession in which real nurses learn “Life and Love” from patients as human beings and can thus grow as human beings themselves.

Jacqueline Fawcett: My position is that all nursologists (that is, all nurses) are real nurses who are engaged in real nursing. However, various perspective of what real nursing is (or is not) exist, as Hayes (2018) had indicated.

I am grateful to the graduate students and faculty at St. Mary’s College Graduate School of Nursing for sharing their perspectives about “real nursing” with the readers of this blog. I now invite students and faculty worldwide to send their perspectives about “real nursing” to me (jacqueline.fawcett@umb.edu) for inclusion in future nursology.net blogs. As we gather worldwide perspectives, we will be able to identify and describe what Leininger (2006) called universalities and diversities in who we are, what we do, and why and how we do what we do.


Fawcett, J. (2015). Invisible nursing research: Thoughts about mixed methods research and nursing practice. Nursing Science Quarterly, 28, 167-168.

Fawcett, J., Derboghossian, G., Flike, K., Gómez, E., Han, H.P., Kalandjian, N., Pletcher, J. E., & Tapayan, S. (2019). Thoughts about real nursing. Nursing Science Quarterly, 32, 331-332.

Hayes, C. (2018). Is OR nursing real nursing? Massachusetts Report on Nursing, September, 11.

Leininger, M. M. (2006). Culture care diversity and universality theory and evolution of the ethnonursing method. In M. M. Leininger & M. R. McFarland, Culture care diversity and universality: A worldwide nursing theory (2nd ed., pp. 1-41). Boston: Jones and Bartlett.

Moving Towards the Next Fifty Years Together

We are delighted to welcome guest bloggers representing the  Nursing Theory Collective
formed March 2019 Case Western Reserve
Nursing Theory Conference:
Chloe Littzen, Jane Hopkins Walsh  and Jessica Dillard Wright

I. Introduction

Chloe Littzen

Jessica Dillard-Wright (L) and Jane Hopkins-Walsh (R)

In March 2019, 130 nurses from all over the world gathered at Case Western Reserve University Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio for Nursing Theory: A 50 Year Perspective, Past, and Future, a landmark conference to celebrate the history of nursing theory and elicit discussion for the future of nursing. The attendees were diverse, comprised of seasoned nursing theorists and doctoral students in equal measure, participating in lively and thoughtful conversation across many domains. The future of nursing theory quickly emerged as a critical issue as nurses working at all levels of expertise expressed their concern over the loss of nursing theory at the institutional level, both academic and clinical. What is at stake in this erosion is discipline-specific nursing knowledge, in particular at this 50-year juncture as the great theorists of nursing like Drs. Peggy Chinn, Joyce Fitzpatrick, Pamela Reed, Callista Roy, Marlaine Smith, and many others approach the end of their illustrious careers. The question resonated, “who will carry the nursing theory torch forward?”

To advance the discipline of nursing, the next wave of nursing theorists and thought leaders must actively engage to advance nursing theory, improve nursing praxis, and articulate nursing’s identity leading our profession into the future. This is the rallying cry that led to the blog post you are reading today. In follow-up to this conference, doctoral student Chloe Littzen engaged other students who attended to embark on a collaborative effort to articulate our vision for the future of nursing theory. What follows is a brief discussion of our course so far, the background, plan, and desired outcomes for convening a nursing theory working group as we envision the next fifty years of nursing theory and beyond.

lI. Background

After the landmark conference concluded, a collaborative effort ensued to form a theory working group focused on promoting nursing theory and advancing nursing’s identity. This group is comprised of both scholars and students and is open to all nurses practicing in all settings. Our first meeting was held online via video-conferencing on May 18th, with a total of six participants from Arizona, Massachusetts, and West Virginia. This first meeting was an experimental think-tank where we considered ideas about the future of nursing and our professional identity. Below, we outline our mission and vision for this nursing theory working group.

III. Plan

The primary mission, as established by our working group, is to promote nursing theory and advance the identity of nursing through knowledge development for all nurses in all settings, including practice, education, research, and policy. As a group, we believe that nursing and nursing theory are dynamic and evolving to meet the needs of an increasingly complex healthcare landscape and global environment. In order to keep nursing theory and nursing relevant and current, thinking about theory must be on-going and iterative, with a continuous cycle of critique, testing, and scholarship. Failure to seriously engage these questions has dire consequences for nursing theory and the profession as nursing as it slowly cedes its identity to the economic pressures of the healthcare environment and the supremacy of biomedicine.

The following bullets summarize our discussion and desired outcomes from the first nursing theory workgroup meeting:

  • Discussion Points:
    1. We need a plan to sustain and evolve nursing theory and nursing’s identity with discipline-specific knowledge.
    2. Nursing theory must be derived from and applicable to the practice environment, not just academia.
    3. The purpose of nursing theory must be clarified for nursing practice, education, research, and policy.
    4. Nurses in clinical practice must have an educational foundation grounded in nursing theory that empowers the application of theory in practice.
    5. Nursing students must be educated and mentored in nursing theory, beginning at the pre-licensure level.
    6. This discussion must include considerations of how nursing theory is taught in the academic environment and how that can be linked to and informed by nursing practice.
    7. The need for nursing theory is global, making this an international, even planetary problem.
  • Desired Outcomes:
    1. To write a manuscript demystifying nursing theory for the nurse in the practice environment.
    2. Write a second manuscript demystifying nursing theory for the nurse educator in academia.
    3. Explore the potential of a future study identifying and describing the barriers and facilitators for using nursing theory in practice, education, research, and policy settings.
    4. Share the discussions, experiences, and findings with the community at Nursology.net.

IV. Invitation – Join us!

While we are a new workgroup, we welcome and encourage all nurses, both advanced scholars and novice theorists alike, to consider joining us in this journey in promoting nursing and nursing theory into the future. We currently meet monthly over Zoom video-conferencing. If you are interested, please contact form below to be placed on the email list for future meetings and content.

If you are planning to go to the 2019 Collaborative K.I.N.G. conference in Washington D.C. from November 14th-15th, we are planning an in-person meeting to take place. We hope to see you there as we drive nursing and nursing theory into the future. Join us!

With optimism and gratitude for the future,
Nursing Theory Collective
(Final group name pending vote at next meeting)


See more information on the King Conference here.

See more information on the landmark theory conference at Case Western Reserve University Frances Payne School of Nursing here.

Please use this form to contact us if you want to join us, or for more information!

Why Nursology?: The Perspective of an International PhD Student

Guest contributor: Toqa Alanby

Toqa Alanby

Hello, my name is Toqa Alanby MSN, BSN, RN, from Saudi Arabia, a full-time nursing PhD student in Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University. I have chosen to begin the pursuit of my academic career in Nursing with a sense of determination. Through my B.Sc. in Nursing from Umm Al-Qura University (Mecca, Saudi Arabia), my English program at INTO University of South Florida (Tampa, Florida, US), and my M.Sc. in Nursing from Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin (Dublin, Ireland), I have dedicated my life to advance my nursing knowledge and skills.

I was introduced to the Nursology website by Dean Marlaine Smith, my advisor, as she said, “websites are vehicles to assist us in coming to know an organization.” The Nursology website is a quantum leap in nursing. Nurse scholars, nurses in clinical settings, and postgraduate students, all of them, can be involved by joining or just by browsing this site. It was designed and maintained by nurse scholars with sufficient experience who can enrich the nursing profession throughout the world. For me as an international PhD student who came from a different background, I found it as a repository for sources about nursing conceptual models, grand theories, middle-range theories, and situation-specific theories, philosophies and related methodologies. It is momentous to nursing practice, education and scientific research because it is a guide to what is already known and what further knowledge and skills are required. Also, I found it as a station that can connect to the pioneers of the nursing profession, a link to enable us to communicate with them easily.

Exploring the website, gave me a better understanding about the history of nursing in the United States. Furthermore, it reminded me of how nursing started in Saudi Arabia. In both cases war had an impact on the development of nursing. For instance, the first mention of nursing in Saudi Arabia was during the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the service of the Muslim armies during periods of war. Women accompanied veterans as companions and caretakers. According to Jan (1996) nursing activities carried over into peacetime when the women served as midwives and continued to nurse the sick and dying.  Subsequently nursing concepts emerged to inform this practice.

Nurses, nursing students and other health professionals understand and view nursing differently. Many definitions have been used to define the concept of nursing. Sapountzi-Krepia (2013) justifies this diversity due to different educational backgrounds, cultures and experiences. Now that nursing is based on the interaction with others, caring appears as one of its central concepts. The concept of care emerged during the decade of the 1950’s; however many factors hampered its progress. It was not until two decades later that not only the first National Caring Research Conference but also the publication of Leininger’s and Watson’s theories stimulated the interest of researchers in the concept (Brilowski & Wendler, 2005). Caring seems to be inherent to nursing practice and originates from respect and concern for the patients, which is a skill that evolves with experience. As for my culture, caring from the Islamic perspective refers to a critical, reflective analysis of what we think we know about our universe and ourselves. Saeed (2006) mentioned that the Islamic philosophy is rooted in the attempt to understand reality rationally. The Qur’an, the Holy book of Muslim faith, and the Sunnah, which documents the life and practices of the prophet, built the Islamic belief system.

Outside of the nursing community, when I talk about nursing science, I always have been asked what distinguishes nursing science from other disciplines? Cowling, Smith & Watson. (2008) answered this question by stating that there are 3 fundamental concepts which are wholeness, consciousness, and caring singled out and positioned in the disciplinary discourse of nursing to distinguish it from other disciplines. In my opinion, nursing implies an intentional activity, attitudes and feelings that shape the professional interaction established between nurses and patients.

Having an understanding of these perspectives will inform health professionals to achieve cultural competence and deliver care that is culturally sensitive (Rassool, 2014). Individualized, holistic care can be achieved by apprehending culture, beliefs and ethnicities, and a display of cultural competence. I saw Dr. Sadat Hoseini’s model on the Nursology website as a model that comes from a Muslim perspective. It is wonderful and informative. However, there is a great diversity of cultural, tribal and linguistic groups among Muslim societies, each of which has its own cultural characteristics and worldview of well-being and sickness. Delivering nursing care to Muslim patients means having an insight of Islamic faith and Islamic beliefs. Thus, what goes on in Saudi Arabia is totally different from what Dr. Hoseini’s model looks for. She is from a different culture, country, and doctrine.

Based on my experience, non-Muslim nurses who work in my country are not able to utilize the existing knowledge and framework of health from Islam to enhance the nursing profession. The inability to shape nursing practice, education, and policy from an Islamic perspective can be attributed to multiple factors such as social status of nursing in the country, professional identity of nurses, and societal approval and recognition (Ismail et al., 2015). Therefore, the professional development of nursing among Muslim nurses is based on utilizing Western practice, education, and ethical models instead of integrating the holistic view of Islam (Gharaibeh & Al-Maaitah, 2012). The curricula of our colleges in Saudi Arabia still follow the theories that come from the United States (F. AlShaibany, personal communication, April 25, 2019). Though, in general, the development of nursing theories and models are almost neglected in Saudi Arabia, whether in education or practice. While nursing students know about nursing theories, they most likely don’t see them as a part of their practice. They also tend more to use theories from other disciplines such as change theories instead of nursing theories.

I was eager to explore nursing from another perspective and the Nursology website was a vehicle to achieve this purpose.  The Western concept is the most visible and distinctive in the site. I believe this site will be a real connection for other nurses around the world to the study of Western nursing. Thus, I hope one day to join the great scholars here to advance Nursology forward and perhaps contribute by sharing my theoretical work from a different cultural point of view. My goal is to embark on an academic career and to conduct research.  In other words, scholars absorb and integrate information coming from the world around them as they create their own work. The role they play calls for the development and maintenance of collective learning and comprehension. A scholar’s work, according to Boyer’s (1990) definition, calls for taking a step backwards from the investigation, searching for connection, and bridging the gap between theory and practice while having one’s knowledge communicated effectively (p.16).

Being able to comprehend and associate with nurses of different cultures is vital for nursing advancement. Understanding cultural differences among nursing perspectives is essential. By educating ourselves about different cultures through communication with diverse nurses in conferences, organized meetings, and engagement with a website like Nursology can prepare us well to broaden our perspectives on nursing knowledge from all over the world in multiple cultures.


Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Brilowski, A., & Wendler, C. (2005). An evolutionary concept analysis of caring. J Adv Nurs (50), 641-50.

Cowling, W.R., Smith, M.C. & Watson, J. (2008). The power of wholeness, consciousness, and caring: A dialogue on nursing science, art, and healing. Advances in Nursing Sciences, 31(1), 41-51.

Alshaibany, F. (2019, April 25). Personal Interview.

Gharaibeh, K. & Al-Maaitah, R. (2012). Islam and Nursing, in Religion, Religious Ethics, and Nursing. Spinger New York, NY. p. 229-249.

Ismail, S., Hatthakit, U., & Chinawong, T. (2015). Caring science within islamic contexts: a literature review. Nurse Media Journal of Nursing, 5(1), 34. doi:10.14710/nmjn.v5i1.10189

Jan, R. (1996). Rufaida Al-Asalmiya, the first Muslim nurse. Image: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 28, 267-268.

Rassool, G. H. (2014). Cultural competence in caring for Muslim patients. Palgrave Macmillan.

Saeed, A. (2006). Islamic Thought: An Introduction. New York, USA: Routledge.

Sapountzi-Krepia, D. (2013). Some thoughts on nursing. Int J Caring Sci (6), 127-133.

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 Nursology.net. 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.