Dr. Jean Watson is one of the foremost nursing theorists of the 20th century as well
as an educator, international speaker, researcher and author. Her theory Philosophy
and Science of Caring focuses on empathy and caring as an essential part of the nursing
process and includes the nurse as a beneficiary of that caring.
Dr. Watson was born as Margaret Jean Harman on June 10, 1940, in a small town in West
Virginia close to the Appalachian Mountains. She was the youngest of eight children
and was raised in a family oriented environment. After graduating with a diploma from
Lewis Gale School of Nursing in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1961, she married her husband,
Douglas Watson. They moved to Boulder in his home state of Colorado where she continued
her education. She credits her husband with his unwavering support and encouragement
for her career. They had two daughters who are now grown and have given her five
In 1997, Dr. Watson was in an accident that cost the sight of her left eye and subsequently
required her to have a prosthesis. She developed a healing process that brought her
back to health and experienced the theory of caring in her personal recovery. She said
that this experience taught her to see herself and her surroundings in a new way and
gave her a more complete insight that she brought to her teaching and nursing career.
After 37 years of marriage, her husband died in March of 1998, but Dr. Watson says that
he is still a large part of her life and his memory motivates her to continue her
Education and Career
After moving to Colorado, Watson enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder,
Colorado, and earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in 1964. In 1966, she
received a master's degree in psychiatric mental health nursing with a minor in psychology
from the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver. She did graduate study at
the University of Colorado, Boulder, in social and clinical psychology in 1969 through
1970 and received her Ph.D. in educational psychology and counseling in 1973.
Watson joined the faculty of the University of Colorado and became the Dean of Nursing
at the University Health Sciences Center. Presently, she holds the position of Distinguished
Professor of Nursing, the highest honor given to faculty members for scholarly work.
She is also the Murchinson-Scoville Chair in Caring Science, the first endowed chair
in Caring Science at the Colorado Health Sciences Center.
After researching human caring and loss, she formed her nursing theory that was first
published in 1979 as Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring. The book has been
revised several times as the theory has evolved and is used as part of the curriculum
in many nursing schools today. In addition to her research and teaching, she has lectured
across the United States and throughout the world. She is past president of the National
League for Nursing and established the Center for Human Caring in the 1980s. In 2008,
she founded the non-profit foundation, the Watson Caring Science Institute, to spread
the principles of caring science in the United States and internationally.
Honors and Awards
Dr. Watson holds three honorary doctoral degrees from universities in the United
States and five internationally. She received a Kellogg Fellowship in Australia and
a Fulbright Research Award in Sweden. In 1993, she received the prestigious Martha E.
Rogers Award from the National League for Nursing for outstanding contributions to
nursing knowledge. New York University named her as a Distinguished Nurse Scholar
and in 1999, the Fetzer Institute gave her the national Norman Cousins Award that
recognized her for her work in the field of patient centered care practices. She is
also a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.
Watson's Philosophy and Science of Caring moves beyond the rigid practice of nursing
and focuses on the meaning of relationships. She wanted nursing to discover new insights
and knowledge concerning human behavior in health as well as illness and learn how to be
in a caring professional relationship that not only served the individual but also society.
Her theory is detailed and provides the framework and concepts that easily can be applied to
nursing practice. The concepts have an overall benefit for the nurse as well. Finding
significance in these principles brings meaning to their work and makes it a rewarding
Publications related to Jean Watson