Nursing Definition: A Science, an Art, or Both?


Today, it is not a secret that nursing can be considered as a science, an art, or even both. Some people find it normal to treat this profession as a science with a number of standards, rules, and requirements to be followed. There are also the groups of people who like to compare nursing with an art, proving that knowledge and understanding of this process are not as important as the idea of doing something in the best possible way. Florence Nightingale was the first theorist who defined nursing as an art (Jeffery, 2013). Martha Rogers was another theorist who argued the necessity of nursing science in practice (Dunphy, Winland-Brown, Porter, & Thomas, 2015). Both theorists were brilliant in the chosen field, and both of them had rather different but never mistaken approaches to understanding nursing. The existing dilemma of nursing definition continues bothering many people during several centuries, and this paper aims at contributing this discussion through the analysis of past experiences, nursing theories, and a personal understanding of what a science and an art can mean in nursing.

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Past experience and importance of theory

Modern students have access to the works of many nursing theorists from different parts of the world without even guessing that such availability can help to answer the main question where nursing has to be regarded as a science or an art. In fact, one of the first steps that have to be taken in such type of research is to gather several definitions of nursing given by different theorists and compare their achievements. For example, Ernestine Widenbach introduced nursing as a combination of four main elements – “philosophy, purpose, practice, and art” – the goal of which is to meet patients’ needs and provide care (Alligood, 2017, p. 16). Orem with her nursing education and early nursing experiences defined nursing as a part of “the family of health services that are organized to provide direct care to persons” (Alligood, 2017, p. 199). The evaluations of Dunphy et al. (2015) help to identify nursing as a promotion of health among healthy people, as well as people who suffer from illnesses. Regarding such interpretations, nursing care has to be framed through certain theories and grounded through relationships between a nurse and a patient.

Nursing as a science

To understand if it is correct to define nursing as a science, it is expected to learn what science is and is not. Science is a combination of intellectual and practical activities with the help of which it is possible to make decisions, investigate cases, share experiences, and define behaviors in a systematic way. According to Duran and Çetinkaya-Uslusoy (2015), the scientific aspects of nursing are usually compared to a number of analytical and systematic processes which are used to solve clinical problems and follow the established principles. There are many theories, guidelines, and foundations in nursing that define the quality of work of nurses and the outcomes all stakeholders may achieve. Nurses have to learn new material and analyze different situations. Such approach is a scientific example through which nurses use their knowledge of biology, anatomy, chemistry, and other sciences. To be effective, nurses must use evidence to prove their points of view. They should work with facts and research results to protect patients, support medical doctors, and promote care quality improvement. Therefore, it is wrong to neglect the fact that nursing has to be considered as a science.

Nursing as an art

At the same time, there are many reasons that can be used that it is correct to identify nursing as an art. An art is an action or even an expression of thoughts or emotions in regards to a particular subject or object. Art is a device that connects a doer with a spectator. Nurses are doers, and patients, as spectators, can observe the results of their actions and interpret the outcomes. If the science of nursing is based on a combination of skills, performances, and theories, the art of nursing is used to prove that nurses can be caring, compassionate, and patient-oriented (Palos, 2014). Knowledge cannot be enough to realize how to support people, what approach should be chosen, or what behaviors are better under certain situations. Scientific methods cannot always be effective for the work with people. Therefore, emotions have to be added. It is the time when nursing has to be understood as an art. The art of nursing is a possibility of one person (a nurse) to combine compassion, care, respect, support, cultural recognition, and unbiased attitudes to many people (patients) with different needs and expectations.

Art-science dilemma

So, what nursing is, a science or an art? Many people are challenged by the necessity to find an answer to this question. However, it is better to create a new question in order to underline the uniqueness of a nursing concept. Is it always necessary to categorize nursing as an art or a science? There are many reasons for why it is correct to consider nursing as both. There is no need to establish priorities or think what should go first because the relation between scientific and artistic characteristics of nursing is very tight. Good leaders and learners can understand that such combination of qualities and skills is what makes nursing unique and effective. Nurses cannot help patients only if they rely on theories and literary knowledge. At the same time, compassion only is not enough to provide families with professional health care. However, in case caring and communication is supported by knowledge and theories, the results of such care may be impressive. Professional nursing is a perfect combination of a science and an art in terms of which nurses can understand what they can do for their patients.


In general, many nurses have already understood that their profession is more than just an art or a science. Their experience, knowledge, and observations should help to create a clear and strong picture of what nursing can or cannot be. Those nurses or students who are still bothered with the necessity to match nursing to a certain category are in need of more time and real-life examples to comprehend that nursing can be full only when scientific and artistic aspects are considered. In addition to the fact that all nurses have to be equipped with knowledge, skills, and proper attitudes to people and their duties, they should never forget that their main task is to work with people and provide care and support. Science is not enough for nurses. Professional nurses need more than facts, numbers, and theories. They should have, as well as give, clear explanations, and they must cooperate with diverse people and respect them despite their religion, age, sex, or nationality. Only when nursing is considered as a science and an art, positive results in health and nursing care may be achieved.


Alligood, M. A. (Ed.). (2017). Nursing theorists and their work (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.

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Duran, E. T., & Çetinkaya-Uslusoy, E. (2015). Opinions of nursing students on the art of nursing: A qualitative study. International Journal of Caring Sciences, 8(2), 308-316.

Dunphy, L. M., Winland-Brown, J., Porter, B., & Thomas, D. (Eds.). (2015). Primary care: Art and science of advanced practice nursing (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company.

Jeffery, A. D. (2013). The art of nursing leadership. Nurse Leader, 11(1), 48,51.

Palos, G. R. (2014). Care, compassion, and communication in professional nursing: Art, science, or both. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 18(2), 247-248.

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