Jean Watson: Founder of the Theory of Human Caring

Jean Watson: Founder of the Theory of Human Caring

For nurses who say that a desire to care for people is what made them pursue the field, the deep-rooted compassion of Jean Watson (1940-present) is relatable and admirable.

Watson is best known for developing the Theory of Human Caring, which describes patient care as more holistic treatment that involves attentive, authentic, personal interactions with patients. Watson’s “caring science” is described by one California hospital as helping nurses to “embrace the positive energy that flows from an integrated mind, body and spirit and is mutually rewarding to both the patient and the nurse.”

Born in West Virginia, Migrated West

Watson was born Margaret Jean Harmon and born in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. She was the youngest of eight children and grew up surrounded by extended family—an environment that very likely played a role in her desire to attend nursing school after graduating high school. When she did, she went on to Lewis Gale School of Nursing, graduating in 1961. That same year, she married Douglas Watson and the pair moved to Colorado, his home state.

Progressing to a Terminal Degree

Watson was educated at the University of Colorado at Boulder and earned a BSN in 1964, an MSN in psychiatric and mental health nursing in 1966, a Ph.D. in educational psychology and counseling in 1973. She then joined CU Health Sciences Center, School of Nursing faculty in Denver.

Caring Science

In 1986, Watson founded the Center for Human Caring at CU’s Health Sciences Center, and she served as director until 1997. It was the nation’s first center of its kind, dedicated to using knowledge about human caring for clinical practice, leadership and more. Her work there led her to engage in many educational, clinical and community activities in human caring, and she went on to do sabbatical studies as an International Fulbright Research scholar in New Zealand, Australia, India, Thailand, and Taiwan.

Until 1990, Watson was dean of the CU School of Nursing and instrumental in helping launch the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree there. She went on to found a nonprofit, the Watson Caring Science Institute, in 2010, which strives to “translate the model of Caring-Healing/Caritas into more systematic programs and services which can continue to transform healthcare, one nurse/one practitioner/one educator/one system at a time.” The Institute works through an extended network of professional, clinical and academic colleagues.

Caritas Practices

At the heart of Watson’s Caring Science is the philosophy that caring consists of carative factors that result in meeting human needs. Specifically, she put forth 10 Caritas Processes that highlight the humanistic aspects of nursing as they intertwine with nursing practice and science. They are: embrace (loving, kindness), inspire (faith, hope), trust (transpersonal), nurture (relationship), forgive (all), deepen (creative self), balance (learning), co-create (caritas field), minister (humanity) and open (infinity).

Sarah Meeks, chair of the RN to BSN program at American Sentinel, says that leaders like Jean Watson embody what many nurses strive to become.

“There is that intangible factor of effective patient care that involves nurses who take a personal and sincere interest in their patients,” says Dr. Meeks. “Most nurses got into the career because they are caring individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of others. Nurses like Jean Watson, who worked her entire life to build a sustainable model that helps practitioners work in a way that blends caring and healing, are role models for all nurses who want to cultivate care in their practice—and achieve the best possible patient outcomes. Her theory is a very simple concept: that caring in and of itself contributes significantly to great patient care.”

A True Living Legend

Now retired and still living in Boulder, Colorado, Watson has written many well-known nursing texts, including “Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring” (2008) and Nursing: Human Science and Human Care: A Theory of Nursing.”

In addition, she has amassed many leadership achievements, including honorary doctoral degrees from institutions around the world and the prestigious Living Legend accolade from the American Academy of Nursing in 2013. She embraces the visions of many other nurse pioneers before her, including Florence Nightingale, and has dedicated her career to teach other nurses to embrace caring as a way to promote health and empower patients.

Nursing is the perfect career for those who are passionate about patient care, like Jean Watson. Explore American Sentinel University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, which help nurses at all levels of their careers become caring, capable nurses who help patients improve their lives.

View our degrees and programs here or call 866.922.5690 to learn how more about American Sentinel’s BSN, MSN and DNP programs.


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