1. Henly, Susan J. PhD, RN

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Time warps are the stuff of science fiction, right? Human(oid)s experience the distortions of time amidst strange technology in unexpected places, but with plot twists that reveal needs and desires that are disarmingly familiar. A future history takes stock of contemporary events, settings, materials, values and mores, and projects forward to imagine events in a transformed, but plausible, forthcoming world. Eventually, time overtakes predictions to distinguish hilarious speculation from prescient foresight.


Today is a critical time for considering the future history of nursing science. Key messages and recommendations in The Future of Nursing (Institute of Medicine, 2011) emphasized use of nurses to fill gaps in the common core of health services. The unique contribution of nursing as relationship-based caring for individuals, families, and communities living with and coping with health challenges (Jones, 2005) was given little attention. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2010) report on the PhD degree in nursing made valuable points but was silent on the content of nursing science.


Do some back-of-the-envelope ciphering to identify the nursing PhD students in our future history. Optimistically assuming bachelor of science in nursing graduation at age 22 years and matriculation into a PhD program at age 36 years, today's undergraduate juniors will be the entering the PhD cohort of 2026. Are we preparing our students, the nurse scientists of the future, for this world?


Some facts about 2026 are known (Queen Elizabeth II's 100th birthday will be celebrated). Others can be predicted with confidence (India will surpass China in population). People of the world reproduce less but live longer with a population bulge at the middle ages. Masses of humanity concentrate in giant metropolises connected by the growing internet of things-a network of the objects of everyday life-and real-time health indicators of people well and sick. Health promotion is powered by personal genetics information augmented by smart personal health records with continuous therapeutic feedback. Robot pets are welcome antidotes for loneliness; personalized medicines are standard prescriptions. Nursing e-science is continually updated and informed by e-Nightingale, where the core values and goals of nursing practice are expressed in virtual therapeutic environments transcending time and space. In the world of 2026, nursing science is grounded in revolutionary biological discoveries informed by the human health and illness experience, including nursing transactions.


Today, it's time to rethink the nursing science curriculum, from the foundational undergraduate years to post-PhD appointments. Informed incorporation of advances in biology, engineered biomaterials and devices, information science, and behavioral science will require stronger preparation in these fields, as well as mathematics on which all scientific advances rely. Sharpened, sustained attention to the unique perspectives of nursing is essential to the ongoing development of nursing as a health profession with distinctive contributions to care.


Susan J. Henly, PhD, RN


Associate Editor




AACN Task Force on the Research-focused Doctorate in Nursing. (2010). The research-focused doctoral program in nursing: Pathways to excellence. Retrieved January 28, 2011, from[Context Link]


Institute of Medicine. (2011). The future of nursing. Leading change, advancing health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. [Context Link]


Jones, D. A. (2005). Are we abandoning nursing as a discipline? Clinical Nurse Specialist: The Journal for Advanced Nursing Practice, 19, 275-277. [Context Link]