1. Section Editor(s): Dickinson, Jane K. RN, PhD, CDCES
  2. Guest Editor

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Editor's Note: Last year we established an Editor Immersion Program designed to introduce nurse scholars to the Editorial role and the field of scholarly publishing in nursing. Our first participant in this program has been Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDCES, Program Director/Senior Lecturer, Diabetes Education and Management, Teachers College Columbia University. Dr Dickinson teaches a graduate nursing theory course at Teachers College, and a number of her students have contributed blogs for One of her areas of expertise and research is the language used in health care, ways in which our language sustains inequities, and ways our language can promote health and well-being. This Editorial is authored by Dr Dickinson as part of her immersion experience. - Peggy Chinn, Editor


Not long ago, I received an email from a non-nursing colleague that he ended with "nursing theories need better branding". We had been collaborating on some work in the "diabetes space" for the past couple years. Recently, on one of our calls, I mentioned nursing theory, and my colleague was intrigued. "What is nursing theory?" he asked. "I didn't know nurses have theories."


I teach the (one) theory course in a doctor of education (EdD) in Nursing Education program. In this solely online and asynchronous course, students and I discuss many aspects of the knowledge base of the nursing discipline. We discuss whether nursing is a basic or applied science; the risks and benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration; and the development, testing, and evaluation of nursing theories. We also discuss the relationship between nursing theory and nursing practice and the role of theory in nursing education and nursing research.


These discussions tend to help students develop an understanding of the value of nursing theory and where we could end up as a discipline without it. The students frequently write that without nursing theory, nursing will be relegated to a task-oriented role and that nursing theory helps students understand what makes nursing nursing. Most students finish the semester with very strong ideas about teaching nursing theory at the ADN, BSN, master's, and doctoral levels of nursing education. They also tend to argue the importance of our disciplinary knowledge being used to guide nursing practice and research, and that we should be using and teaching all 5 patterns of knowing in nursing.1,2 A few students sometimes hold out that empiric knowing, specifically safety measures, is most important in nursing practice. Even then, the discussion typically turns to how without considering the whole person-as taught in multiple nursing theories-we can't truly address safety.


The discussion about interdisciplinary collaboration is always interesting because students tend to feel strongly that nursing knowledge would benefit all health care disciplines. We often ask ourselves, do other disciplines even know that we have a knowledge base? Do they know that we have theories, frameworks, and models? Do non-nursing health care professionals ever implement nursing theories or use them to guide their practice or research? While no one seems to know for sure, the answer is typically no.


When I got the message from my colleague suggesting nursing theories need better branding, I was reminded of these conversations in class, which made me think about how we often lament the lack of "voice" in nursing. If we had a stronger voice, would nursing knowledge be more widely known, referenced, and used? Before we can even contemplate that question, perhaps we need to dig into whether or not nurses, ourselves, are aware of and using our own knowledge base. Are we talking about what and how nurses know? Are we teaching nursing theories? Are we applying them in practice? Are we guiding our research with them? Are we evaluating and adapting nursing theories and developing new ones? How do we "brand" nursing theory within our own discipline, let alone with our peers in other disciplines? Maybe, it's time to start doing both.


-Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDCES


Guest Editor




1. Carper B. Fundamental patterns of knowing in nursing. ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 1978;1(1):13-23. doi:10.1097/00012272-197810000-00004 [Context Link]


2. Chinn PL, Kramer MK. Knowledge Development in Nursing: Theory and Process. Elsevier; 2018. [Context Link]