In This Section

Defining Scholarship for the Discipline of Nursing

Purpose: This document provides standards that clarify and describe a full range of scholarship within the discipline of nursing. In particular, this statement focuses on four aspects of scholarship that are salient to academic nursing-- discovery, teaching, applications in clinical practice, and integration of ideas from nursing and other disciplines. These areas support the values of a profession committed to both social relevance and scientific advancement. This document is not intended as prescriptive, or as exclusive of other considerations. It is a descriptive tool, and may be used to guide promotion, tenure, and merit reviews in a way that is appropriate to the profession; expand the scope of recognized scholarly activities; guide individual career planning; and demonstrate the growth of the profession over time. The unique culture and context of each academic institution, and the priorities of each nursing unit, will determine the relevance and value of the proposed standards within its own setting.


Colleges and universities across the nation are striving to meet the challenges of rapidly changing educational systems, and are reconsidering the role of the faculty in an increasingly complex learning environment. An important part of that role is the creation of scholarship pertinent to the discipline of the individual faculty member. Many academic disciplines such as history, engineering, social work, psychology, business, education, and many others are in the process of redefining the traditional boundaries of scholarship, and are examining the faculty reward system that perpetuates these boundaries (Diamond & Adam, 1995; Glassick, Huber, & Maeroff, 1997).

Nowhere is this dialogue more pertinent than in nursing, where rigorous scholarly inquiry must be applied in the realities and demands of practice. Nursing faculty, like others whose discipline brings together scientific investigation and application through professional services, often function in a system designed to reward and promote a narrow definition of academic success. Nursing, however, may have priorities for teaching, scholarship, and service that are linked directly to the goals of the profession.


Boyer (1990) challenged all disciplines to embrace the full scope of academic work, moving beyond an exclusive focus on traditional and narrowly defined research as the only legitimate avenue to further the knowledge of the discipline, and to obtain rewards for professorial performance. He proposed that scholarship involves four areas that are critical to academic work. These are the scholarship of

...discovery, where new and unique knowledge is generated;
...teaching, where the teacher creatively builds bridges between his or her own understanding and the students' learning;
...application, where the emphasis is on the use of new knowledge in solving society's problems; and
...integration, where new relationships among disciplines are discovered.

These four aspects of scholarship are salient to academic nursing, where each specified area supports the values of a profession committed to both social relevance and scientific advancement. This document builds upon the work of Boyer (1990) and Diamond & Adam (1995); the rich history of nursing scholarship (Donaldson & Crowley, 1978; Stevenson, 1988); and statements by members of the profession that clarify the beliefs and values of academic leadership on interdisciplinary collaboration (AACN, 1995), research (AACN, 1998), faculty practice (AACN, 1993), and education (AACN, 1997).

Definition of Scholarship in Nursing

Scholarship in nursing can be defined as those activities that systematically advance the teaching, research, and practice of nursing through rigorous inquiry that 1) is significant to the profession, 2) is creative, 3) can be documented, 4) can be replicated or elaborated, and 5) can be peer-reviewed through various methods. This definition is applied in the following standards that describe scholarship in nursing.


Scholarship of Discovery

The scholarship of discovery is inquiry that produces the disciplinary and professional knowledge that is at the very heart of academic pursuits (Boyer, 1990). Within nursing, the scholarship of discovery reflects the unique perspective of nursing that "takes an expanded view of health by emphasizing health promotion, restoration, and rehabilitation, as well as a commitment to caring and comfort (AACN, 1998, p.1)." The scholarship of discovery takes the form of primary empirical research, historical research, theory development and testing, methodological studies, and philosophical inquiry and analysis. It increasingly is interdisciplinary and collaborative in nature, across professional groups and within nursing itself. 

Primary empirical research is the systematic collection of data to answer an empirical question or test an hypothesis. A variety of qualitative and quantitative designs is used, including experimental, quasi-experimental, descriptive, exploratory, case studies, and ethnography. Source materials include primary empirical measurements, observations and specimens, databases created for other purposes, and published reports of research. 

Historical research includes original investigations using manuscripts, documents, oral narrative, and other printed and non-printed materials. 

Theory development is the process of drawing together scientific and experiential knowledge, assumptions, and principles into a systematic set of statements that have explanatory and predictive power with respect to an area of experience. Scientific theories suggest explanations for phenomena that may be subjected to empirical tests. 

Methodological studies include the development and testing of new or revised methods of inquiry that have utility in generating knowledge. 

Philosophical inquiry in nursing is metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical and involves critical reasoning and argument that is systematic, rational, and critical. It seeks to answer questions related to the meaning of health and illness in the context of human life, how we acquire and evaluate knowledge, and the standards of conduct of life. Whether arguments are inductive or deductive in nature, assumptions are thoroughly examined and principles of logical thought and proof are followed.

Examples of Documentation of the Quality of the Scholarship of Discovery
  • peer-reviewed publications of research, theory, or philosophical essays; 
  • presentations of research, theory, or philosophical essays; 
  • grant awards in support of research or scholarship; 
  • mentorship of junior colleagues in research or scholarship; 
  • state, regional, national, or international recognition as a scholar in an identified area; and 
  • positive peer evaluations of the body of work.
Scholarship of Teaching

The scholarship of teaching is inquiry that produces knowledge to support the transfer of the science and art of nursing from the expert to the novice, building bridges between the teacher's understanding and the student's learning (Boyer, 1990). This scholarly approach supports the development of educational environments that embrace diverse learning styles, and increasingly, places the focus of education on the learner (Edgerton, 1997). Within nursing, the scholarship of teaching increases the effectiveness of the transfer of discipline-specific knowledge, and adds to deeper understanding of both the discipline and pedagogy. The scholarship of teaching is conducted through application of knowledge of the discipline or specialty area in the teaching-learning process, the development of innovative teaching and evaluation methods, program development, learning outcome evaluation, and professional role modeling. 

Knowledge of the discipline or specialty applied in teaching-learning includes innovations that demonstrate the knowledge of the faculty member in relation to teaching (such as authorship of textbooks or other learning aids), technology application, and theory building in the teaching-learning assessment context.

Development of innovative teaching and evaluation methods includes research in teaching strategies, course development and outcome evaluation, curricular and faculty evaluation innovations, research related to the knowledge and pedagogy of nursing, and creation of innovative learning environments that support diverse groups of students.

Program development and learning outcome evaluation includes the development of outcomes assessment programs, accreditation reports, grant proposals for educational programs, disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs, and educational evaluation models.

Professional role modeling includes the mentoring of students and novice faculty, leadership roles in curriculum and instruction, development of programs for lifelong learning, and leadership in shaping educational policy.

Examples of Documentation of the Quality of Scholarship of Teaching
  • peer-reviewed publications of research related to teaching methodology or learning outcomes, case studies related to teaching-learning, learning theory development, and development or testing of educational models or theories; 
  • accreditation or other comprehensive program reports; 
  • successful applications of technology to teaching and learning; 
  • positive peer assessments of innovations in teaching; state, regional, national, or international recognition as a master teacher; 
  • published textbooks or other learning aids; 
  • grant awards in support of teaching and learning; 
  • design of outcome studies or evaluation/assessment programs; and 
  • presentations related to teaching and learning.
Scholarship of Practice (Application)

The scholarship of practice has emerged in nursing as a critical component in the maintenance of clinical competency of faculty in a university setting and the advancement of clinical knowledge in the discipline (Norbeck & Taylor, 1998; Rudy et al., 1995; and Wright, 1993). Practice scholarship encompasses all aspects of the delivery of nursing service where evidence of direct impact in solving health care problems or in defining the health problems of a community is presented. Competence in practice is the method by which knowledge in the profession is both advanced and applied. Practice roles for faculty in health care delivery systems may include direct caregiver, educator, consultant, and administrator (Brown, et al., 1995; Norbeck & Taylor, 1998; Wright, 1993). 

Models through which the scholarship of practice may be accomplished are varied (Norbeck & Taylor, 1998). These models may include structural typologies for practice, such as nursing centers, joint appointments with external agencies, and faculty development; faculty role approaches, such as teacher, practitioner, administrator, and consultant; specialty practice arrangements, encompassing all types of clinical expertise in nursing, including community health, primary care, anesthesia services, midwifery services, clinical specialties, and others; and administrative approaches, such as volunteer, collaborative, revenue-generating, and contractual service models. In all models, the focus is on the scholarship generated through practice. Practice is conducted through the application of nursing and related knowledge to the assessment and validation of patient care outcomes, the measurement of quality of life indicators, the development and refinement of practice protocols/strategies, the evaluation of systems of care, and the analysis of innovative health care delivery models.

Components of the scholarship of practice include: 

  • development of clinical knowledge, which entails systematic development and application of theoretical formulations and conduct of clinically applicable research and evaluation studies in clinical areas of expertise; 
  • professional development, which includes self-development to improve competency beyond the basic practice of professional nursing and research in specialty practice arrangements and faculty role concepts (Brown et al., 1995);
  • application of technical or research skills that promote the testing of clinical knowledge and new practice strategies, evaluation of systems of care, development of quality indicators, the development of innovative health care delivery models, and others; and 
  • service, where scholarship is directly related to the clinical specialty of the faculty member and flows directly from professional activity, includes the mentoring of professional staff and students, leadership roles in developing practice and the public health, the development of practice standards, and the initiation of grant proposals for the creation of delivery system models to improve access to health care (Boyer, 1990).
Examples of Documentation of the Quality of Practice Scholarship
  • peer-reviewed publications of research, case studies, technical applications, or other practice issues;
  • presentations related to practice;
  • consultation reports;
  • reports compiling and analyzing patient or health services outcomes;
  • products, patents, license copyrights;
  • peer reviews of practice;
  • grant awards in support of practice;
  • state, regional, national, or international recognition as a master practitioner;
  • professional certifications, degrees, and other specialty credentials;
  • reports of meta-analyses related to practice problems;
  • reports of clinical demonstration projects; and policy papers related to practice.
Scholarship of Integration

The scholarship of integration refers to writings and other products that use concepts and original works from nursing and other disciplines in creating new patterns, placing knowledge in a larger context, or illuminating the data in a more meaningful way. The scholarship of integration emphasizes the interconnection of ideas, and brings new insight to bear on original concepts and research. Critical analysis and interpretation are two common methodologies, but interdisciplinary work may take place through any medium for scholarship such as those described as discovery, teaching, or practice (Boyer, 1990). Original work in the scholarship of integration takes place at the margins, or interface, between two disciplines. It serves to respond to both intellectual questions and pressing human problems by creating knowledge or combining knowledge in applications that offer new paradigms and insights.

Integrative scholarship requires participation from two or more disciplines in inquiry that advances knowledge across a wide range of techniques and methodologies. Works that would be recognized in the scholarship of integration in nursing include interfaces between nursing and a variety of disciplines. Integrative reviews of the literature, analysis of health policy, development of interdisciplinary educational programs and service projects, studies of systems in health care, original interdisciplinary research, and integrative models or paradigms across disciplines are examples of the scholarship of integration.

Examples of Documentation of the Quality of Integrative Scholarship
  • peer-reviewed publications of research, policy analysis, case studies, integrative reviews of the literature, and others; 
  • copyrights, licenses, patents, or products for sale;
  • published books;
  • positive peer evaluations of contributions to integrative scholarship;
  • reports of interdisciplinary programs or service projects;
  • interdisciplinary grant awards;
  • presentations; and
  • policy papers designed to influence organizations or governments.


While the mission of institutions of higher learning is unique in each setting, the commitment to scholarly approaches to education, practice, and research creates common bonds across the academic nursing community. This document is intended to clarify, extend, and enhance the scholarly work of nursing in academic settings. The application of the standards proposed in this document will differ by institution, yet will provide a framework for the advancement of nursing knowledge that will ultimately improve the health of people.

AACN Task Force on Defining Standards for the Scholarship of Nursing

Joellen Edwards, PhD, Task Force Chair
Dean, College of Nursing
East Tennessee State University 


Christine Alichnie, PhD
Chair, Department of Nursing
Bloomsburg University


Cheryl E. Easley, PhD
Dean, College of Nursing & Allied Health Sciences
Saginaw Valley State University


Sandra Edwardson, PhD
Dean, School of Nursing
University of Minnesota


Sarah B. Keating, EdD
Dean, Intercollegiate Nursing Program
Samuel Merritt-St. Mary's


Joan Stanley, PhD (Staff Liaison)
Director, Education Policy


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  2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (1997). Faculty practice: Old questions, new answers. Proceedings of the AACN's 1997 Faculty Practice Conference. Washington, DC: Author.
  3. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (1995). Interdisciplinary education and practice. Washington, DC: Author.
  4. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (1998). Position statement on nursing research. Washington, DC: Author.
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    Taylor, D. (1996). Faculty practice: Uniting advanced nursing practice and nursing education. In A. Hamric, J. Spross, and C. Hanson (eds). Advanced nursing practice: An integrative approach. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders.
  14. Wright, D.J. (1993). Faculty practice: Criterion for academic advancement. Nursing and Health Care, 14(1), 18-21.

    (Approved by AACN Membership: March 15, 1999)