Imogene King: Theory of Goal Attainment

Imogene King was a pioneer in nursing and renowned for her development of the nursing theory: “Theory of Goal Attainment”. Get to know Imogene King’s biography, major concepts of her theory, and its application and impact in nursing.

Biography of Imogene King

Imogene Martina King (January 30, 1923 – December 24, 2007) was one of the pioneers and most sought nursing theorists for her Theory of Goal Attainment which was developed in the early 1960s. Her work is being taught to thousands of nursing students from all over the world and is implemented in a variety of service settings as well.

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As a recognized global leader, King truly made a positive difference for the nursing profession with her significant impact on nursing’s scientific base. She made an enduring impact on nursing education, practice, and research while serving as a consummate, active leader in professional nursing.

Imogene M. King

Early Life

Imogene King was born Jan. 30, 1923, in West Point, Iowa. During her early high school years, she decided to pursue a career in teaching. However, her uncle, the town surgeon, offered to pay her tuition to nursing school. She eventually accepted the offer, seeing nursing school as a way to escape life in a small town. Thus began her remarkable career in nursing.


Imogene King excelled in her nursing studies despite the fact that it was not her first choice to consider. In 1945, she received a diploma in Nursing from St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis, Missouri.

King's graduation photo
King’s graduation photo

While working in a variety of staff nurse roles, King started coursework toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Education, which she received from St. Louis University in 1948. In 1957, she received a Master of Science in Nursing from St. Louis University.

She went on to study with Mildred Montag as her dissertation chair at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York, and received her EdD in 1961.

Career and Appointments

Imogene M. King, director of the School of Nursing at Ohio State University in Columbus from 1968 to 1972

After receiving her diploma in 1945, Imogene King worked in a variety of staff nurse roles. From 1947 to 1958, she worked as an instructor in Medical-Surgical nursing and was an assistant director at St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing. King developed a master’s degree program in nursing based on a nursing conceptual framework from 1961 to 1966 at Loyola University in Chicago. Her first theory article appeared in 1964 in the journal, Nursing Science, which nurse theorist Martha Rogers edited.

Under Jessie Scott, King served as an Assistant Chief of Research Grants Branch, Division of Nursing at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare between 1966 and 1968. While King was in Washington, DC, her article “A Conceptual Frame of Reference for Nursing” was published in Nursing Research (1968).

In 1969, King conducted a World Health Organization nursing research seminar in Manila, Philippines, where she met Midori Sugimori of Japan. From then on, the two nurses kept in touch. Sugimori translated King’s two theory books into Japanese, and the books strongly influenced nursing education in Japan. The doctoral dissertation of Tomomi Kameoka tested the theory of goal attainment in Japan. King was present when Kameoka presented her research at the honor society’s 2001 Biennial Convention

From 1968 to 1972, King served as the director of the School of Nursing at Ohio State University in Columbus. King then returned to Chicago in 1972 as a professor in the Loyola University graduate program. She also served from 1978 to 1980 as Coordinator of Research in Clinical Nursing at the Loyola Medical Center Department of Nursing. From 1972 to 1975, King was a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services for the U.S. Department of Defense. She also was elected alderman for a 4-year term (1975 to 1979) in Ward 2 at Wood Dale, Illinois.

In 1980, King was appointed professor at the University of South Florida College of Nursing, in Tampa. King continued to provide community service and to help plan care through her conceptual system and theory at various health care organizations, including Tampa General Hospital.

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