Dr. Imogene King was one of the leading nursing theorists of the 20th century. Her systems
theory and corresponding goal attainment theory have been used in almost all nursing texts
and form the framework for many nursing programs.
Early Life and Education
Imogene King was born on January 23, 1923, in West Point, Iowa. The youngest of three
children, she dreamed of being a teacher but entered nursing school when an uncle
offered to help with finances. It was said that she accepted the offer to escape
life in her small town.
After graduating in 1945 from St. John's Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis,
Missouri, with a diploma in nursing, she went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in
Nursing Education from St. Louis University in 1948 with minors in chemistry and
philosophy. In this way, she combined her lifelong dream of being a teacher with
her nursing career. Later, she would earn higher degrees, but this education served
her well in her career goals at the time.
Nursing Career and Further Education
From 1947 until 1958, King worked at St. John's School of Nursing as a medical-surgical
instructor and as an assistant director. After earning a Master of Science in Nursing
(MSN) in 1957 from the St. Louis University and a doctorate in education from Teachers
College at Columbia University in New York in 1961, Dr. King became an associate professor
at Loyola University in Chicago. During that time, she also took postdoctoral studies in
statistics, research design and computer applications. While at Loyola from 1961 to 1966,
she formed a master's degree program that was based on her nursing concepts that later
became the framework for her theory. Her first theory was published in 1964 in the
Journal of Nursing Science.
From 1966 to 1968, Dr. King served in the United States Department of Health, Education
and Welfare as the Assistant Chief of Research Grants Branch, Division of Nursing in
Washington, D.C., under Dr. Jessie Scott. She then went to Ohio State University in
Columbus from 1968 to 1972 where she was director of the School of Nursing. It was
while she was there that her book, Toward a Theory of Nursing: General Concepts of
Human Behavior, was published in 1971. The American Journal of Nursing chose it for
the Book of the Year Award in 1973.
From 1971 to 1980, Dr. King went back to Loyola University, this time as a full professor
and, from 1980 until her retirement in 1990, she served as a professor in Tampa, Florida,
at South Florida's College of Nursing. While she was there, her second book, A Theory for
Nursing: Systems, Concepts, Process, was published in 1981. This was the completed form
of her Theory of Goal Attainment. During this time, she also wrote many journal articles,
book chapters and nursing curriculum.
Always active in nursing organizations, Dr. King was a member of the American Nurses
Association (ANA), the Florida Nurses Association (FNA), Sigma Theta Tau International
Honor Society of Nurses and was a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing. She was
instrumental in founding the King International Nursing Group (KING) that facilitated
the use of her Theory of Goal Attainment and related theories. She was also the recipient
of many honors that included an honorary doctorate from Southern Illinois University and
the Jessie M. Scott Award in 1996 from the American Nurses Association. In 2005, the
American Academy of Nursing named her as a Living Legend.
Dr. King died as the result of a stroke on December 24, 2007 at the age of 84. She is
remembered fondly by her colleagues who describe her as a visionary who inspired others
with knowledge, laughter and a smile and passion for each day. In spite of all the
honors and awards that she received, she felt that her most important achievement was
teaching students and watching them become excellent nurses, teachers and researchers.
She was an inspiration to all who knew her.
King's Nursing Theories
King's Theory of Goal Attainment was first proposed in the 1960s. She was inspired by
a philosophy professor in the 1940s who asked if she or any other nurses had formed a
definition of the nursing act. To answer this question, she embarked on years of study
that resulted in the completed theory that addresses the goals of nursing, the functions
of nurses and the ways that nurses can improve their knowledge to provide excellent care
for their patients.
Publications related to Imogene King