Martha Rogers: Science of Unitary Human Beings

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Martha Roger's Nursing Theory

Martha Rogers is a nurse theorist who is the proponent of the nursing theory: “Science of Unitary Human Beings”. Get to know the major concepts behind her theory including a section about her biography and career as a nurse.

Biography of Martha E. Rogers

Martha Elizabeth Rogers (May 12, 1914 – March 13, 1994) was an American nurse, researcher, theorist, and author widely known for developing the Science of Unitary Human Beings and for her landmark book, An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing.

She believes that a patient can never be separated from his or her environment when addressing health and treatment. Her knowledge about the coexistence of the human and his or her environment contributed a lot in the process of change toward better health.

Early Life

Martha Rogers was born on May 12, 1914; sharing a birthday with Florence Nightingale. She was the eldest of four children of Bruce Taylor Rogers and Lucy Mulholland Keener Rogers.

Portrait of Martha E. Rogers
Portrait of Martha E. Rogers

She had a thirst for knowledge at an early age. She found Kindergarten to be “terribly exciting” and had a love and passion for books that was fostered by her parents. Her father introduced her to the public library at the age of 3 where she loved story time. She liked to go off by herself with a book. And by the fourth grade, she had read every book in her school library. She used to go to the public library before I was 6 even before she could read. She was well acquainted with the public library and started reading eight books at a time. Her father used to be bothered if she was just skimming but he later on discovered that the young Rogers was learning fast.

In fact, Rogers already knew the Greek alphabet by age 10. By the sixth grade, she already finished reading all 20 volumes of The Child’s Book of Knowledge and was into the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Four Generations, Left to right: Lucy K Rogers, mother; Martha E. Rogers; Laura B. Keener, grandmother; Lucy M. Brownlee, great-grandmother. via V. M. Malinski & E.A.M. Barrett, 1994
Four Generations, Left to right: Lucy K Rogers, mother; Martha E. Rogers; Laura B. Keener, grandmother; Lucy M. Brownlee, great-grandmother. via V. M. Malinski & E.A.M. Barrett, 1994

She also loved to read various topics like anthropology, archaeology, cosmology, ethnography, astronomy, ethics, psychology, eastern philosophy, and aesthetics. By her senior year she had completed all the high school math courses and was taking a college level algebra course where she was the only female in the class.

Education

Initially, Martha Rogers wanted to do something that would, hopefully contribute to social welfare like law and medicine. However, she only studied medicine for a couple of years because women in medicine were not particularly desirable during her time. Instead, Rogers along with her friend entered a local hospital that had a school of nursing. But just like Nightingale, her parents weren’t really any happier over that decision than they had between over medicine.

Bruce T. Rogers (Father), Martha, Keener (Brother), Laura (Sister), Lucy K. Rogers (Mother), via E.A.M. Barrett & V.M. Malinski, 1994
Bruce T. Rogers (Father), Martha, Keener (Brother), Laura (Sister), Lucy K. Rogers (Mother), via E.A.M. Barrett & V.M. Malinski, 1994

She then transferred to Knoxville General Hospital’s nursing program and was one of 25 students in her class. She described her training as at times as being miserable because the training was like the “Army, pre-Nightingale.” She even spent a week at home, thinking of not returning to school but eventually enjoyed working with people and patients.

Rogers received her nursing diploma from the Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing in 1936, then earned her Public Health Nursing degree from George Peabody College in Tennessee in 1937. She sold her car to pay for tuition and entered a Masters degree program full-time.

Rogers Family, circa 1945. Jane L. Coleman, Martha E. Rogers, Lucy K. Rogers, (Mother) Keener (Brother) , Laura B. Whihte (sister) via E.A.M. Barrett & V.M. Malinski, 1994
Rogers Family, circa 1945. Jane L. Coleman, Martha E. Rogers, Lucy K. Rogers, (Mother) Keener (Brother) , Laura B. Whihte (sister) via E.A.M. Barrett & V.M. Malinski, 1994

Her Master’s degree was from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1945, and her Doctorate in Nursing was given to her from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1954. She completed her studies in 1954 and the title of her dissertation was “The association of maternal and fetal factors with the development of behavior problems among elementary school children.”

Career and Appointments

After Martha Rogers graduated from George Peabody College in Tennessee in 1937, she worked for the Children’s Fund of Michigan for two years as public health nurse.

Rogers in her Teens via E.A.M. Barrett & V.M. Malinski, 1994
Rogers in her Teens via E.A.M. Barrett &
V.M. Malinski, 1994

In 1940, she accepted a position in Hartford, CT at the Visiting Nurse Association. She worked at the Association for five years, first as an Assistant Supervisor, then as the Assistant Education Director, and lastly as the acting Director of Education. At the same time she was completing her coursework at Teacher’s College and completed her degree requirements (Master of Arts) in 1945.

After completing her degree in 1945, she sent out a number of job inquiry letters, considered staying in Hartford, but settled on a position as the Executive Director at the Visiting Nurse Service in Phoenix, Arizona. She believed she may have been the first nurse in Arizona with a masters degree and for 1945 to 1951, she built up the Visiting Nursing Service in Phoenix.

While a doctoral student, she did spend a year as a visiting lecturer at a Catholic University in Washington, DC.

Rogers and her predecessor Vera Fry at NYU circa 1954
Rogers and her predecessor Vera Fry at NYU circa 1954

Rogers was then appointed Professor and Head of the Division of Nursing at New York University right after graduating from Hopkins. She was encouraged to accept the position by Ruth Freeman. When Rogers arrived at NYU, Vera Fry was the previous Division Head and Joan Hoexter stated that all of the nursing faculty left except her. She was also a Fellow for the American Academy of Nursing.

Rogers officially retired as Professor and Head of the Division of Nursing in 1975 after 21 years of service. Following her retirement, she continued to teach at NYU, was a frequent presenter at scientific conferences throughout the world, and consistently worked to refine her conceptual system.

Rogers with John Phillips
Rogers with John Phillips

Rogers was also actively involved in professional nursing organizations and associations concerned with education and scholarship. In 1979, she became Professor Emerita and continued to have an active role in the development of nursing and the Science of Unitary Human Beings.

Theory

The Science of Unitary Human Beings

Rogers with Sr. Callista Roy (right)
Rogers with Sr. Callista Roy (right)

Martha Rogers’ theory is known as the Science of Unitary Human Beings (SUHB). The theory views nursing as both a science and an art as it provides a way to view the unitary human being, who is integral with the universe. The unitary human being and his or her environment are one. Nursing focuses on people and the manifestations that emerge from the mutual human-environmental field process.

SUHB contains two dimensions: the science of nursing, which is the knowledge specific to the field of nursing that comes from scientific research; and the art of nursing, which involves using the science of nursing creatively to help better the life of the patient.

Rogers wearing "Just visiting this planet!" cap, Photo by M Bramlett, 1991
Rogers wearing “Just visiting this planet!” cap, Photo by M Bramlett, 1991

Her model addresses the importance of the environment as an integral part of the patient, and uses that knowledge to help nurses blend the science and art of nursing to ensure patients have a smooth recovery and can get back to the best health possible.

There are eight concepts in Rogers’ nursing theory: energy field, openness, pattern, pan-dimensionality, homeodynamic principles, resonance, helicy, and integrality.

Rogers’ development of the said theory has become an influential nursing theory in the United States. When first introduced, it was considered profound, and was too ambitious, but now is simply thought to be ahead of its time. Her conceptual framework has greatly influenced all aspects of nursing by offering an alternative to traditional approaches of nursing.

Her theory is discussed further below.

Works

Front cover of Reveille in Nursing (1964)
Front cover of Reveille in Nursing (1964)

Martha Rogers wrote three books that enriched the learning experience and influenced the direction of nursing research for countless students: Educational Revolution in Nursing (1961), Reveille in Nursing (1964).

In about 1963 Rogers edited a journal called Nursing Science. It was during that time that Rogers was beginning to formulate ideas about the publication of her third book, An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing (1970), the last of which introduced the four Rogerian Principles of Homeodynamics.

Her publications include: Theoretical Basis of Nursing (1970), Nursing Science and Art: A Prospective (1988), Nursing: Science of Unitary, Irreducible, Human Beings Update (1990), and Vision of Space Based Nursing (1990).

Roger's third book "An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing" (1970)
Roger’s third book “An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing” (1970)

Awards and Honors

Martha Rogers was honored with numerous awards and citations for her sustained contributions to nursing and science. In 1996, she was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association’s Hall of Fame.

Death

Martha Rogers died on March 13, 1994 and was buried in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has a memorial placed in the sidewalk near her childhood home in Knoxville.

Memorial placed in the sidewalk near her childhood home in Knoxville by Gamma Chi, Sigma Theta Tau, International. Photo by Martha Alligood
Memorial placed in the sidewalk near her childhood home in Knoxville by Gamma Chi, Sigma Theta Tau, International. Photo by Martha Alligood

Rogers’ Theory of Unitary Human Beings

The belief of the coexistence of the human and the environment has greatly influenced the process of change toward better health. In short, a patient can’t be separated from his or her environment when addressing health and treatment. This view lead and opened Martha E. Rogers’ theory, known as the “Science of Unitary Human Beings,” which allowed nursing to be considered one of the scientific disciplines.

Rogers’ theory defined Nursing as “an art and science that is humanistic and humanitarian. It is directed toward the unitary human and is concerned with the nature and direction of human development. The goal of nurses is to participate in the process of change.”

According to Rogers, the Science of Unitary Human Beings contains two dimensions: the science of nursing, which is the knowledge specific to the field of nursing that comes from scientific research; and the art of nursing, which involves using the science of nursing creatively to help better the life of the patient.

Assumptions

The assumptions of Rogers’ Theory of Unitary Human Beings are as follows: (1) Man is a unified whole possessing his own integrity and manifesting characteristics that are more than and different from the sum of his parts. (2) Man and environment are continuously exchanging matter and energy with one another. (3) The life process evolves irreversibly and unidirectionally along the space-time continuum. (4) Pattern and organization identify the man and reflect his innovative wholeness. And lastly, (5) Man is characterized by the capacity for abstraction and imagery, language and thought sensation and emotion.

Major Concepts

The following are the major concepts and metaparadigm of Martha Rogers’ nursing theory:

Human-unitary human beings

A person is defined as an indivisible, pan-dimensional energy field identified by a pattern, and manifesting characteristics specific to the whole, and that can’t be predicted from knowledge of the parts. A person is also a unified whole, having its own distinct characteristics that can’t be viewed by looking at, describing, or summarizing the parts.

Health

Rogers defines health as an expression of the life process. It is the characteristics and behavior coming from the mutual, simultaneous interaction of the human and environmental fields, and health and illness are part of the same continuum. The multiple events occurring during the life process show the extent to which a person is achieving his or her maximum health potential. The events vary in their expressions from greatest health to those conditions that are incompatible with the maintaining life process.

Nursing

It is the study of unitary, irreducible, indivisible human and environmental fields: people and their world. Rogers claims that nursing exists to serve people, and the safe practice of nursing depends on the nature and amount of scientific nursing knowledge the nurse brings to his or her practice

Scope of Nursing

Nursing aims to assist people in achieving their maximum health potential. Maintenance and promotion of health, prevention of disease, nursing diagnosis, intervention, and rehabilitation encompass the scope of nursing’s goals.

Nursing is concerned with people-all people-well and sick, rich and poor, young and old. The arenas of nursing’s services extend into all areas where there are people: at home, at school, at work, at play; in hospital, nursing home, and clinic; on this planet and now moving into outer space.

Environmental Field

“An irreducible, indivisible, pandimensional energy field identified by pattern and integral with the human field.”

Energy Field

The energy field is the fundamental unit of both the living and the non-living. It provides a way to view people and the environment as irreducible wholes. The energy fields continuously vary in intensity, density, and extent.

Subconcepts

Openness

There are no boundaries that stop energy flow between the human and environmental fields, which is the openness in Rogers’ theory. It refers to qualities exhibited by open systems; human beings and their environment are open systems.

Pandimensional

Pan-dimensionality is defined as “non-linear domain without spatial or temporal attributes.” The parameters that humans use in language to describe events are arbitrary, and the present is relative; there is no temporal ordering of lives.

Synergy is defined as the unique behavior of whole systems, unpredicted by any behaviors of their component functions taken separately.

Human behavior is synergistic.

Pattern

Rogers defined the pattern as the distinguishing characteristic of an energy field seen as a single wave. It is an abstraction and gives identity to the field.

Principles of Homeodynamics

Homeodynamics should be understood as a dynamic version of homeostasis (a relatively steady state of internal operation in the living system).

Homeodynamic principles postulate a way of viewing unitary human beings. The three principles of homeodynamics are resonance, helicy, and integrality.

Principle of Reciprocy

Postulates the inseparability of man and environment and predicts that sequential changes in life process are continuous, probabilistic revisions occurring out of the interactions between man and environment.

Principle of Synchrony

This principle predicts that change in human behavior will be determined by the simultaneous interaction of the actual state of the human field and the actual state of the environmental field at any given point in space-time.

Principle of Integrality (Synchrony + Reciprocy)

Because of the inseparability of human beings and their environment, sequential changes in the life processes are continuous revisions occurring from the interactions between human beings and their environment.

Between the two entities, there is a constant mutual interaction and mutual change whereby simultaneous molding is taking place in both at the same time.

Principle of Resonancy

It speaks to the nature of the change occurring between human and environmental fields. The life process in human beings is a symphony of rhythmical vibrations oscillating at various frequencies.

It is the identification of the human field and the environmental field by wave patterns manifesting continuous change from longer waves of lower frequency to shorter waves of higher frequency.

Principle of Helicy

The human-environment field is a dynamic, open system in which change is continuous due to the constant interchange between the human and environment.

This change is also innovative. Because of constant interchange, an open system is never exactly the same at any two moments; rather, the system is continually new or different.

Science of Unitary Human Beings and Nursing Process

The nursing process has three steps in Rogers’ Theory of Unitary Human Beings: assessment, voluntary mutual patterning, and evaluation.

The areas of assessment are: the total pattern of events at any given point in space-time, simultaneous states of the patient and his or her environment, rhythms of the life process, supplementary data, categorical disease entities, subsystem pathology, and pattern appraisal. The assessment should be a comprehensive assessment of the human and environmental fields.

Mutual patterning of the human and environmental fields includes:

  • sharing knowledge
  • offering choices
  • empowering the patient
  • fostering patterning
  • evaluation
  • repeat pattern appraisal, which includes nutrition, work/leisure activities, wake/sleep cycles, relationships, pain, and fear/hopes
  • identify dissonance and harmony
  • validate appraisal with the patient
  • self-reflection for the patient

Strengths

Martha Rogers’ concepts provide a worldview from which nurses may derive theories and hypotheses and propose relationships specific to different situations.

Rogers’ theory is not directly testable due to lack of concrete hypotheses, but it is testable in principle.

Weaknesses

Rogers’ model does not define particular hypotheses or theories for it is an abstract, unified and highly derived framework.

Testing the concepts’ validity is questionable because its concepts are not directly measurable.

The theory was believed to be profound and was too ambitious because the concepts are extremely abstract.

Rogers claimed that nursing exists to serve people, however, nurses’ roles were not clearly defined.

The purpose of nurses is to promote health and well-being for all persons wherever they are. However, Rogers’ model has no concrete definition of health state.

Conclusion

The Science of Unitary Human Beings is highly generalizable as the concepts and ideas are not confined with a specific nursing approach unlike the usual way of other nurse theorists in defining the major concepts of a theory.

Rogers gave much emphasis on how a nurse should view the patient. She developed principles which emphasize that a nurse should view the client as a whole.

Her statements, in general, made us believe that a person and his or her environment are integral to each other. That is, a patient can’t be separated from his or her environment when addressing health and treatment. Her conceptual framework has greatly influenced all aspects of nursing by offering an alternative to traditional approaches of nursing.

See Also

You may also like the following nursing theories study guides: 

References

  • Rogers, M. E. (1989). An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis
  • Hektor LM (1989) Martha E Rogers: A Life History. Nursing Science Quarterly 2; 2, 63-73.
  • Safier, G. (1977). Contemporary American leaders in nursing: An oral history. New York: McGraw Hill.

External Links

With contributions by Wayne, G., Vera, M. 

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Angelo Gonzalo, BSN, RN
Angelo Gonzalo earned his Nursing degree in the year 2010 and continued his studies at St. Paul University Manila taking up Masters of Arts in Nursing Major in Clinical Management. He worked as an intensive care nurse for more than six years. He advocates for proper training and development of new nurses, quality assurance and compassionate care. He has also been involved in community development for 10 years steering programs on good governance, health, sports, and education. Angelo aims to build a good foundation for aspiring nurses. He would like to impart the importance of understanding nursing theories that he hopes to be translated successfully to practice.

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