Jean Watson

"We are the light in institutional darkness, and in this model we get to return to the light of our humanity." -Dr. Jean Watson

Jean Watson

Jean Watson (June 10, 1940 – present) is an American nurse theorist and nursing professor who is well known for her “Philosophy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring.” She has also written numerous texts, including Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring. Watson’s study on caring has been integrated into education and patient care to various nursing schools and healthcare facilities all over the world.

Early Life

Watson was born Margaret Jean Harmon and grew up in the small town of Welch, West Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains. She was the youngest of eight children and was surrounded by an extended family–community environment. Watson attended high school in West Virginia and then the Lewis Gale School of Nursing in Roanoke, Virginia, where she graduated in 1961.

Personal Life

After her graduation in 1961, Watson married her husband, Douglas, and moved west to his native state of Colorado. In 1997, she experienced an accidental injury that resulted in the loss of her left eye and soon after, in 1998, her husband, whom she considers as her physical and spiritual partner, and her best friend passed away and left Watson and their two grown daughters, Jennifer and Julie, and five grandchildren.

Jean Watson, RN, PhD, FAAN, AHN-BC
Jean Watson, RN, PhD, FAAN, AHN-BC

Watson states that she is “attempting to integrate these wounds into my life and work. One of the gifts through the suffering was the privilege of experiencing and receiving my own theory through the care from my husband and loving nurse friends and colleagues.” These two personal life-altering events contributed to writing her third book, Postmodern Nursing and Beyond.


Watson ardently and quickly progressed through her nursing education earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1964, a master of science in nursing in psychiatric and mental health nursing in 1966, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology and counseling in 1973, all from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Career and Appointments

Lecture series celebration, Taken at St Peter's College, New Jersey
Lecture series celebration, Taken at St Peter’s College, New Jersey

After Watson concluded her doctoral degree, she has served in both faculty and administrative positions in the School of Nursing faculty, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. In 1981 and 1982, she pursued international sabbatical studies in New Zealand, Australia, India, Thailand, and Taiwan.

In the 1980s, Watson and colleagues established the Center for Human Caring at the University of Colorado, the nation’s first interdisciplinary center committed to using human caring knowledge for clinical practice, scholarship, and administration and leadership. At the center, Watson and others sponsor clinical, educational, and community scholarship activities and projects in human caring. These activities involve national and international scholars in residence, as well as international connections with colleagues around the world, such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Thailand, and Venezuela, among others. Activities such as these continue at the University of Colorado’s International Certificate Program in Caring Healing, where Watson offers her theory courses for doctoral students.

Henry Ford Hospital research conference
Henry Ford Hospital research conference

Watson served as chairperson and assistant dean of the undergraduate program at the University of Colorado School of Nursing. She was involved in planning and implementation of the nursing PhD program and served as coordinator and director of the PhD program between 1978 and 1981. From 1983 to 1990, she was Dean of University of Colorado School of Nursing and Associate Director of Nursing Practice at University Hospital. During her deanship, she was instrumental in the development of a post-baccalaureate nursing curriculum in human caring, health, and healing that led to a Nursing Doctorate (ND), a professional clinical doctoral degree that in 2005 became the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Between 1993 and 1996, Watson served as a member of the Executive Committee and the Governing Board, and as an officer for the NLN, and she was elected president from 1995 to 1996.

In 2005, she took a sabbatical for a walking pilgrimage in the Spanish El Camino. And in 2008, Watson created a non-profit foundation: Watson Caring Science Institute, to further the work of Caring Science in the world.

Philosophy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring

Watson’s Philosophy and Science of Caring is concerned on how nurses express care to their patients. Her theory stresses humanistic aspects of nursing as they intertwine with scientific knowledge and nursing practice.

International Hiroshima Conference on Caring and Peace
International Hiroshima Conference on Caring and Peace

The nursing model states that “nursing is concerned with promoting health, preventing illness, caring for the sick, and restoring health.” It focuses on health promotion, as well as the treatment of diseases. According to Watson, caring is central to nursing practice, and promotes health better than a simple medical cure. She believes that a holistic approach to health care is central to the practice of caring in nursing.

According to her theory, caring can be demonstrated and practiced by nurses. Caring for patients promotes growth; a caring environment accepts a person as he or she is, and looks to what he or she may become.

Watson also defined three of the four metaparadigm concepts in nursing including person or human being, health, and nursing. She referred human being as a valued person in and of him or herself to be cared for, respected, nurtured, understood and assisted; in general a philosophical view of a person as a fully functional integrated self. Human is viewed as greater than and different from the sum of his or her parts. Health, meanwhile, is defined as a high level of overall physical, mental, and social functioning; a general adaptive-maintenance level of daily functioning; and the absence of illness, or the presence of efforts leading to the absence of illness. And nursing as a science of persons and health-illness experience that are mediated by professional, personal, scientific, and ethical care interactions.

She does not define the fourth metaparadigm concept of environment but instead devised 10 caring needs specific carative factors critical to the caring human experience that need to be addressed by nurses with their patients when in a caring role.

10 Carative Factors

Watson’s 10 carative factors are: (1) forming humanistic-altruistic value systems, (2) instilling faith-hope, (3) cultivating a sensitivity to self and others, (4) developing a helping-trust relationship, (5) promoting an expression of feelings, (6) using problem-solving for decision-making, (7) promoting teaching-learning, (8) promoting a supportive environment, (9) assisting with gratification of human needs, and (10) allowing for existential-phenomenological forces. The first three factors form the “philosophical foundation” for the science of caring, and the remaining seven come from that foundation.

Charles Drew University Medicine Dymally School of Nursing, Los Angeles
Charles Drew University Medicine Dymally School of Nursing, Los Angeles

Within assisting with the gratification of human needs, Watson’s hierarchy of needs begins with lower-order biophysical needs or survival needs, which include the need for food and fluid, elimination, and ventilation. Next are the lower-order psychophysical needs or functional needs, which include the need for activity, inactivity, and sexuality. The higher order psychosocial needs or integrative needs include the need for achievement, and affiliation. And finally the higher order intrapersonal-interpersonal need or growth-seeking need which is self-actualization.

The nursing process outlined in Watson’s model contains the same steps as the scientific research process: assessment, plan, intervention, and evaluation. The assessment includes observation, identification, and review of the problem, as well as the formation of a hypothesis. Creating a care plan helps the nurse determine how variables would be examined or measured, and what data would be collected. Intervention is the implementation of the care plan and data collection. Finally, the evaluation analyzes the data, interprets the results, and may lead to an additional hypothesis.


Watson has authored 11 books, shared in authorship of six books, and has written countless articles in nursing journals. The following publications reflect the evolution of her theory of caring from her ideas about the philosophy and science of caring.

Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring (1979)

The Philosophy and Science of Caring (1979)


Watson’s first book was developed from her notes for an undergraduate course taught at the University of Colorado. Her early work embraced the 10 carative factors but evolved to include “caritas,” making explicit connections between caring and love. This book was reprinted in 1985 and translated into Korean and French.

Human Science and Human Care – A Theory of Nursing (1985)

Jean Watson 18This book, published in 1985 and reprinted in 1988 and 1999, addressed her conceptual and philosophical problems in nursing. Her second book has been translated into Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and probably other languages by now.

Postmodern Nursing and Beyond (1999)

Watson’s third book was presented as a model to bring nursing practice into the twenty-first century.

Jean Watson 19Watson describes two personal life-altering events that contributed to her writing. In 1997, she experienced an accidental injury that resulted in the loss of her left eye and soon after, in 1998, her husband died. Watson states that she is “attempting to integrate these wounds into my life and work. One of the gifts through the suffering was the privilege of experiencing and receiving my own theory through the care from my husband and loving nurse friends and colleagues.” This book has been translated into Portuguese and Japanese.

Instruments for Assessing and Measuring Caring in Nursing and Health Sciences (2002)

Jean Watson 17This is a collection of 21 instruments to assess and measure caring, received the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award. This book provides all the essential research tools for assessing and measuring caring for those in the caring professions. Watson’s text is the only comprehensive and accessible collection of instruments for care measurement in clinical and educational nursing research. The measurements address quality of care, patient, client, and nurse perceptions of caring, and caring behaviors, abilities, and efficacy.This is Watson’s fourth book.

Caring Science as Sacred Science (2005)

Jean Watson 14Watson’s fifth book describes her personal journey to enhance understanding about caring science, spiritual practice, the concept and practice of care, and caring-healing work. In this book, she leads the reader through thought-provoking experiences and the sacredness of nursing by emphasizing deep inner reflection and personal growth, communication skills, use of self-transpersonal growth, and attention to both caring science and healing through forgiveness, gratitude, and surrender. It received the American Journal of Nursing 2005 Book of the Year Award.

Recent books include Measuring Caring:

Jean Watson 10 Jean Watson 11 Jean Watson 15

International Research on Caritas as Healing (Nelson & Watson, 2011), Creating a Caring Science Curriculum (Hills & Watson, 2011), and Human Caring Science: A Theory of Nursing (Watson, 2012).


Awards and Honors

Molloy College Division of Nursing's third annual doctoral forum research lecture and poster sessions
Molloy College Division of Nursing’s third annual doctoral forum research lecture and poster sessions

Watson has been active and hardworking in many community programs during her career. She has been a founder and a member of the Board of Boulder County Hospice, and numerous other collaborations with area health care facilities. She has received several research and advanced education federal grants and awards and numerous university and private grants and extramural funding for her faculty and administrative projects and scholarships in human caring.

In 1992, the University of Colorado School of Nursing honored Watson as a distinguished professor of nursing. She received six honorary doctoral degrees from universities in the United States and three Honorary Doctorates in international universities, including Göteborg University in Sweden, Luton University in London, and the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada. She received the National League for Nursing (NLN) Martha E. Rogers Award, which recognizes nurse scholars’ significant contributions to advancing nursing knowledge and knowledge in other health sciences in 1993. In 1997, the NLN awarded her an honorary lifetime certificate as a holistic nurse. Finally, in 1999, Watson assumed the nation’s first Murchison-Scoville Endowed Chair of Caring Science and currently is a distinguished professor of nursing.

Qatar Conference Unified Caring Model for Gulf Countries UAE
Qatar Conference Unified Caring Model for Gulf Countries UAE

Watson was recognized as a Distinguished Nurse Scholar by New York University in 1998. And in 1999, she received the Fetzer Institute’s National Norman Cousins Award in recognition of her commitment to developing, maintaining, and exemplifying relationship-centered care practices.

She is a Distinguished and/or Endowed Lecturer at national universities, including Boston College, Catholic University, Adelphi University, Columbia University-Teachers College, State University of New York, and at universities and scholarly meetings in numerous foreign countries.

Her international activities also include an International Kellogg Fellowship in Australia in 1982, a Fulbright Research and Lecture Award to Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia in 1991, and a lecture tour in the United Kingdom in 1993. Watson has been involved in international projects and has received invitations to New Zealand, India, Thailand, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, Venezuela, Korea, and other places. She is featured in at least 20 nationally distributed audiotapes, videotapes, and/or CDs on nursing theory.

In 2010, Watson received an Honorary Doctor of Sciences in Nursing from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.


External Links

See Also

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Gil Wayne graduated in 2008 with a bachelor of science in nursing and during the same year, earned his license to practice as a registered nurse. His drive for educating people stemmed from working as a community health nurse where he conducted first aid training and health seminars and workshops to teachers, community members, and local groups. Wanting to reach a bigger audience in teaching, he is now a writer and contributor for Nurseslabs since 2012 while working part-time as a nurse instructor. His goal is to expand his horizon in nursing-related topics, as he wants to guide the next generation of nurses to achieve their goals and empower the nursing profession.


  1. […] Nurses are a unique kind. They have this insatiable need to care for others, which is both their biggest strength and fatal flaw. – Dr. Jean Watson […]


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