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History of Nursing Research at the University of Washington

The last half of the 20th century witnessed the most explosive growth in scientific discovery in all of human history. The School of Nursing has been a major player in this search for new knowledge, consistently ranking among the top nursing schools in the country in research awards.

Scientific inquiry by nurses at the University of Washington dates back to 1931, when the first doctoral degree was awarded to a nurse in microbiology. In 1937, the master's in nursing degree program began, which had at its core a major research component and a thesis.

During the 1950s, scholarly endeavors in the School of Nursing centered on curriculum studies by the entire faculty. In the decade that followed, a Faculty Research Development Project encouraged individual faculty research and initiated more training of nurse researchers. But sources of research funding during this period were very limited and few members of research review committees had nurses on them.

In 1964, Dean Mary Tschudin and Dr. Katherine Hoffman obtained a grant to institute a nurse scientist program. This required nurses to do their major in another discipline and then apply the research to nursing. Looking for a way to promote research in order to provide more role models for students, Tschudin and Hoffman asked for help from faculty member Dr. Marjorie Batey 53, a trained social scientist with a background in organizational systems. Batey initiated the Research Facilitation Project, a systematic study of the mechanisms needed to develop a vigorous research subculture and sustain it over the long term.

Between 1969, when Batey initiated the project, and 1976, research monies increased from a little over $26,000 per year to over $930,000.

In the decades that followed, research became an integral part of the educational process at the School. Computer technology, bioinstrumentation and increasing numbers of nurse scientists on faculty made experiential learning an integral part of both the undergraduate and graduate educational experience.

Dean Rheba de Tornyay facilitated the development of the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science in 1977 and, in 1982, Marcia Killien was awarded the first PhD in nursing. Today, 99% of the School's tenured faculty hold PhD degrees.

"Research is what enlivens the teaching," Batey commented in a recent interview, and the Office of Nursing Research, which she founded in 1970, is still making that possible, helping to attract world-class faculty to the School. While the Office for Nursing Research was established in 1970, it was just one activity in a multiple-phase plan to incorporate research into the University of Washington School of Nursing. 

A brief historical outline by phase and activity is listed below showing how the University of Washington School of Nursing built its research program.

Phase I: Commitment of Administrative Leadership (1950s)

First acknowledged and recognized the significance of research to the development of knowledge essential to nursing science and practice.

Phase II: Awakening Phase (1960s and early 1970s)

  • Sensitize Faculty to Importance of Research
  • Focus on Individual Faculty Development
  • Release Time
  • Faculty Research Development Grant
  • Nurse Scientist Training Grant
  • Administrative Philosophy: Paternalistic

Phase III: Tender Phase (1970s)

  • Development Research Facilitation Office and Director of Nursing Research
  • Research separate from faculty’s role
  • Do your own thing in research and bring in as many dollars as you can
  • Administrative Departmentalization

Phase IV: Coming of Age (Early and Mid 1980s)

  • Research Integration with Education
  • Collaboration Among Faculty
  • Modeling Parties
  • Computerization and Bioinstrumentation

Phase V: Maturity (1990s-present)

  • Development of Centers to Integrate Research, Education, Practice
  • Maturity of Investigators: Programs of Study
  • Solid Collaboration and Mentorship