What is Nursing Science?

Nurse practitioner using tablet device
Nurse practitioner using tablet device

Are you wondering what nursing science is and why it’s vital to your career path as a nurse practitioner (NP)? NPs use their understanding of nursing science to deliver evidence-based practice that improves patient outcomes.

Nursing science is a fundamental core course in the online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)–Nurse Practitioner (NP) program at Wilkes University.

This blog will help you understand the meaning of nursing science and what to expect from Wilkes’ course for MSN–NP students. Plus, learn about recent advances in nursing science and resources to supplement your learning.

Defining Nursing Science

Nursing is a basic science, just like biology. Biology is the study of life, whereas nursing science is the study of the principles and application of nursing.

You may be curious about the difference between nursing and nursing science. Nursing science forms the scientific basis for professional nursing practice.

According to the National Research Council (NRC), nursing science also produces information to:

  • Assess healthcare systems and environments.
  • Improve patient, family and community outcomes.
  • Shape healthcare policy.

The Structure of Nursing Science

Nursing science consists of theoretical and practical knowledge. It began as a philosophical discipline and now also contributes information about specific phenomena within the clinical practice of nursing.

Nursing science includes knowledge such as:

  • Philosophical Positions: Nursing philosophies were developed in the early 20th century to describe the intellectual understanding of the discipline. They include statements about ethics and values.
  • Grand Theories: Grand theories are the conceptual models of nursing. They emerged in the 1970s to define the discipline of nursing.
  • Middle-Range Theories: Beginning in the mid-1980s, theorists developed middle-range theories to help nurses apply research to practice. They derive from grand theories and explain “the doing of nursing.”
  • Situation-Specific Theories: The late 1990s introduced situation-specific theories. They “link theory to both practice and research” by explaining particular occurrences in nursing.

Graduate-level nursing science courses tend to emphasize middle-range theories because they connect theory and practice.

Themes of Inquiry

Nursing science provides information about multiple themes of inquiry.

A seminal paper published in 1978, “The Discipline of Nursing,” described nursing science as developing knowledge in three main areas:

  • “Principles and laws that govern life processes, wellbeing and optimal function during illness and health.”
  • “Patterns of human behavior in interaction with the environment in critical life situations.”
  • “The processes by which positive changes in health status are affected.”

Since then, the themes of inquiry have evolved.

In 1986, the National Institutes of Health established the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). The NINR supports and conducts research that develops the scientific basis for clinical nursing practice.

According to the NINR, nursing science focuses on:

  • Understanding and easing the symptoms of illnesses.
  • Preventing, delaying or slowing the progression of disease or disability.
  • Identifying practical approaches to achieving and sustaining optimal health.
  • Improving the various clinical settings.

As health care needs become increasingly complex, nursing science continues to expand to include other foci. As a result, it contributes to improved patient outcomes.

Asian American nurse wearing a mask in laboratory setting

How Do MSN Programs Advance Nursing Science Competency?

MSN programs build on the nursing science competencies gained through a baccalaureate nursing degree program. They’re designed to prepare nurses for advanced practice by developing a deeper understanding of nursing and all related sciences.

MSN programs educate nurses to integrate findings from:

  • Physical and social sciences
  • Humanities
  • Biopsychosocial fields
  • Genetics
  • Public health
  • Quality improvement
  • Health economics
  • Translational science
  • Organizational sciences

MSN students also develop a stronger grasp of assessment, problem identification, intervention design and the evaluation of aggregate outcomes than nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

As a result, MSN graduates are fully prepared to improve patient outcomes by:

  • Evaluating research findings.
  • Developing and implementing evidence-based practice guidelines.
  • Identifying practice and systems problems that require study.
  • Collaborating with scientists to initiate research.

What is Wilkes’ MSN Nursing Science Course?

Wilkes’ MSN–NP program advances nursing science competency through NSG 501: Theoretical Foundations of Nursing Science. The course emphasizes the systematic process of theory development in nursing.

You’ll learn to describe, analyze and evaluate current theories of nursing. At the end of the course, you’ll be prepared to:

  • Discuss the relationship of research and practice to theory development in nursing.
  • Explore the role of empirical science and other ways of knowing within the historical context of nursing theory development.
  • Analyze the process of theory development.
  • Critique selected theories of nursing.
  • Evaluate the usefulness of selected theories of nursing as they relate to the advanced practice of nursing.

Course Topics

Wilkes’ MSN nursing science course integrates the work of leading nurse researchers, including Beth L. Rodgers, Kathleen A. Knafl, Lorraine G. Olszewski Walker and Kay C. Avant.

The course covers the following topics:

  • Introduction to Nursing Knowledge
  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Process of Theory Development
  • Process of Concept Development
  • Theory Description
  • Critical Reflection of Theory
  • Mid-range Theories
  • Application of Theory in Nursing Practice

Course Structure

Like all courses in the online MSN–NP program, NSG 501 features fully online coursework. You can access the coursework for all 12 units in Wilkes’ virtual learning environment 24 hours a day.

Throughout the course, you’ll demonstrate your understanding through a series of online assignments. You’ll write a concept analysis paper, participate in written and oral critiques of nursing theories and engage in weekly discussions with peers.

What Are Examples of Advances in Nursing Science?

Research by the NINR has led to the advancement of nursing science. Between 2017 and 2020 alone, the NINR funded over 330 researchers across nearly 250 project grants.

Following are highlights of NINR research outcomes over the past decade.

Spontaneous Preterm Birth Risk (sPTB)

In 2019, Dr. Michael A. Elovitz and colleagues conducted research to better understand the role of the cervicovaginal microbial environment in spontaneous preterm birth (sPTB).

The team compared the cervicovaginal microbiota of women with sPTB to that of women who delivered at term. They identified seven bacterial taxa that were “significantly associated” with a higher risk of sPTB.

What’s the impact of these findings? They can improve outcomes by aiding in developing diagnostics that identify the risk of sPTB early in pregnancy.

Traumatic Brain Injury Complications

In 2015, NINR researcher Dr. Jessica Gill and colleagues determined that the blood protein tau may be responsible for long-term complications resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The researchers used an ultra-sensitive technology to measure tau levels in the blood of military personnel who had experienced TBI. They took measurements at standard intervals months and years after the injuries were sustained.

The team discovered that elevated tau levels were associated with chronic neurological symptoms, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

These research findings enable further study on how to ease chronic neurological symptoms by reducing tau accumulation.

Sports-Related Concussion Recovery

According to the NINR, there is no reliable blood-based test to determine if and when an athlete may safely return to play after sustaining a sports-related concussion. In 2017, Dr. Gill set out to change that.

Her team evaluated changes in tau levels in male and female college athletes with sports-related concussions. The goal was to determine if a higher tau level related to a longer recovery.

The researchers found that athletes who needed more than 10 days of recovery before returning to play had higher tau concentrations than those who returned in 10 days or less.

This means measuring tau levels could be an objective method for preventing athletes from risking further injury by returning to play too early.

Group of nurses in classroom setting

How to Learn More about Nursing Science?

Wilkes’ course will equip you with a comprehensive understanding of nursing science for advanced practice nursing. But you can supplement your learning with these suggested reading materials.

Fitzpatrick, J. and Geraldine M. (Eds). (2015). Theories Guiding Nursing Research and Practice. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company

Click here for details

This book demonstrates a step-by-step process for using middle-range and grand theory to guide research, from developing a research question to evaluating the outcomes. The authors apply 18 theories to specific clinical populations and care delivery issues in clinical, administrative and educational nursing settings.

Alligood, M. (2017). Nursing Theorists and Their Work (9th ed). New York, NY: Elsevier

Click here for details

Explore the work of 39 eminent nurse theorists in this book of objective critiques. Each chapter covers one theorist, providing an in-depth look at philosophy, conceptual models, grand theory, theory, middle-range theory and the future of nursing theory.

Smith, M. (2020). Nursing Theories and Nursing Practice (5th ed). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis

Click here for details

Grow your understanding of the relationship between theory and practice. This book presents 25 theories written by the original theorists or notable nurse scholars, describing the development and implementation of theory-based practice.

Prepare to Excel in Nursing Science

Completing Wilkes’ nursing science course will move you another step closer to becoming an NP equipped to provide quality health care.

Remember that your dedicated student advisor is available to help you throughout the course. If you’re a Wilkes’ student looking for additional support, please contact your student advisor. If you’re not yet a Wilkes’ student and would like to learn more about our programs, you can get in touch with an enrollment advisor.