Jean Watson: Theory of Human Caring

Dr. Jean Watson is a nurse theorist who developed “Philosphy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring” or “Caring Science” and founder of Watson Caring Science Institute. Get to know about Dr. Watson’s nursing theory, its major concepts, assumptions, and application to nursing in this study guide.

Biography of Jean Watson

Jean Watson (June 10, 1940 – present) is an American nurse theorist and nursing professor who is well known for her “Philosophy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring.” She has also written numerous texts, including Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring. Watson’s study on caring has been integrated into education and patient care to various nursing schools and healthcare facilities all over the world.

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Early Life

Jean Watson was born Margaret Jean Harmon and grew up in the small town of Welch, West Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains. She was the youngest of eight children and was surrounded by an extended family–community environment. Watson attended high school in West Virginia and then the Lewis Gale School of Nursing in Roanoke, Virginia, where she graduated in 1961.

Personal Life

Jean Watson, RN, PhD, FAAN, AHN-BC

After her graduation in 1961, Jean Watson married her husband, Douglas, and moved west to his native state of Colorado. In 1997, she experienced an accidental injury that resulted in the loss of her left eye and soon after, in 1998, her husband, whom she considers as her physical and spiritual partner, and her best friend passed away and left Watson and their two grown daughters, Jennifer and Julie, and five grandchildren.

Watson states that she is “attempting to integrate these wounds into my life and work. One of the gifts through the suffering was the privilege of experiencing and receiving my own theory through the care from my husband and loving nurse friends and colleagues.” These two personal life-altering events contributed to writing her third book, Postmodern Nursing and Beyond.


Jean Watson ardently and quickly progressed through her nursing education earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1964, a master of science in nursing in psychiatric and mental health nursing in 1966, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology and counseling in 1973, all from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Career and Appointments

Lecture series celebration, Taken at St Peter's College, New Jersey
Lecture series celebration, Taken at St Peter’s College, New Jersey

After Jean Watson concluded her doctoral degree, she has served in both faculty and administrative positions in the School of Nursing faculty, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. In 1981 and 1982, she pursued international sabbatical studies in New Zealand, Australia, India, Thailand, and Taiwan.

In the 1980s, Watson and colleagues established the Center for Human Caring at the University of Colorado, the nation’s first interdisciplinary center committed to using human caring knowledge for clinical practice, scholarship, and administration and leadership. At the center, Watson and others sponsor clinical, educational, and community scholarship activities and projects in human caring. These activities involve national and international scholars in residence, as well as international connections with colleagues around the world, such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Thailand, and Venezuela, among others. Activities such as these continue at the University of Colorado’s International Certificate Program in Caring Healing, where Watson offers her theory courses for doctoral students.

Henry Ford Hospital research conference
Henry Ford Hospital research conference

Watson served as chairperson and assistant dean of the undergraduate program at the University of Colorado School of Nursing. She was involved in planning and implementation of the nursing PhD program and served as coordinator and director of the PhD program between 1978 and 1981. From 1983 to 1990, she was Dean of University of Colorado School of Nursing and Associate Director of Nursing Practice at University Hospital. During her deanship, she was instrumental in the development of a post-baccalaureate nursing curriculum in human caring, health, and healing that led to a Nursing Doctorate (ND), a professional clinical doctoral degree that in 2005 became the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Between 1993 and 1996, Watson served as a member of the Executive Committee and the Governing Board, and as an officer for the NLN, and she was elected president from 1995 to 1996.

In 2005, she took a sabbatical for a walking pilgrimage in the Spanish El Camino. And in 2008, Watson created a non-profit foundation: Watson Caring Science Institute, to further the work of Caring Science in the world.

Philosophy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring

Watson’s Philosophy and Science of Caring is concerned on how nurses express care to their patients. Her theory stresses humanistic aspects of nursing as they intertwine with scientific knowledge and nursing practice.

The nursing model states that “nursing is concerned with promoting health, preventing illness, caring for the sick, and restoring health.” It focuses on health promotion, as well as the treatment of diseases. According to Watson, caring is central to nursing practice, and promotes health better than a simple medical cure. She believes that a holistic approach to health care is central to the practice of caring in nursing.

According to her theory, caring can be demonstrated and practiced by nurses. Caring for patients promotes growth; a caring environment accepts a person as he or she is, and looks to what he or she may become.

Watson also defined three of the four metaparadigm concepts in nursing including person or human being, health, and nursing. She referred human being as a valued person in and of him or herself to be cared for, respected, nurtured, understood and assisted; in general a philosophical view of a person as a fully functional integrated self. Human is viewed as greater than and different from the sum of his or her parts. Health, meanwhile, is defined as a high level of overall physical, mental, and social functioning; a general adaptive-maintenance level of daily functioning; and the absence of illness, or the presence of efforts leading to the absence of illness. And nursing as a science of persons and health-illness experience that are mediated by professional, personal, scientific, and ethical care interactions.

She does not define the fourth metaparadigm concept of environment but instead devised 10 caring needs specific carative factors critical to the caring human experience that need to be addressed by nurses with their patients when in a caring role.

10 Carative Factors

Watson’s 10 carative factors are: (1) forming humanistic-altruistic value systems, (2) instilling faith-hope, (3) cultivating a sensitivity to self and others, (4) developing a helping-trust relationship, (5) promoting an expression of feelings, (6) using problem-solving for decision-making, (7) promoting teaching-learning, (8) promoting a supportive environment, (9) assisting with gratification of human needs, and (10) allowing for existential-phenomenological forces. The first three factors form the “philosophical foundation” for the science of caring, and the remaining seven come from that foundation.

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