Nursing Studies

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The Chair of Nursing Studies was established in 1972 but teaching of the disciple began a quarter of a century earlier when Edinburgh became the first British university to establish a Nurse Teaching Unit.


Although nursing had been taught at university level in the United States since the late 19th century, academic nursing in the United Kingdom and in Europe as a whole. Edinburgh University's Department of Nursing Studies has its roots in earlier Nurse Tutors' course which was organized by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Scottish Branch. This involved study towards a Certificate in Nurse Education awarded by Edinburgh University which, in turn, led to registration as a Registered Nurse Tutor (RNT) by the General Nursing Council for Scotland. In 1953, Margaret Lamb (1907-1992), an innovative RCN Education Officer, was awarded a Rockefeller Travelling Scholarship to study degree courses in nursing in the United States. She returned determined to introduce similar courses here.

The 1st Nurse Teaching Unit, to be set up in a British University (1956) • Within the University of Edinburgh, in the Arts Faculty, funded by the Rockefeller . • The 1st Director of University Nursing Studies in Europe (1956)

The roots of the Department of Nursing Studies were in the Nurse Tutors’ course organised by the RCN, Scottish Branch. A Certificate in Nurse Education was awarded by Edinburgh University, and ultimately registration conferred (Registered Nurse Tutor [RNT]) by the General Nursing Council for Scotland. Miss Lamb was an innovative RCN Education Officer (she introduced clinical instructors’ and ward sisters’ courses and liberal studies into the tutors’ course). She was awarded a Rockefeller Travelling Scholarship (1953) to study degree courses in the States; she returned, fired with enthusiasm to promote similar courses here. The Tutors’ Course was studied by Miss Carter (a Canadian nurse, and strong advocate of reform of nurse education), supervised by Professor Crew (Chair of Public Health and Social Medicine). Her findings were that the course worked “almost twice as hard” as the students doing a similar two year course in London, and students were admitted with “professional references” –not the academic standards required by university students.

Professor Crew spearheaded a move to tighten up academic control of the education of senior nurses and secure the course within the university. His proposal to house it in the Faculty of Medicine was out-voted, the fear being that “nurses would not be able to cope with the standard of teaching and (the faculty was) not prepared to compromise academic excellence.”

He persuaded the University Principal to house the course within the University, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts agreed, and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, a ‘Nurse Teaching Unit’ was set up in June 1956. The strongly medical, academic Appointment Board, selected Elsie Stephenson (not Miss Lamb, who applied), to be the first Director; the RCN, not on the interview panel, were allowed to have access to the short-list of applicants and sit as observers only at the interview process. The successful candidate was neither a graduate nor an experienced nurse educator, two of the stated criteria for the post.

In 1954, a proposal was made for a Nurse Tutor Course to be located entirely within the University setting. Funding was sought from the Rockefeller Foundation for the foundation a Nurse Training Unit. This was granted in 1956, following a visit from Mary Elizabeth Tennant, Assistant Director of the Rockefeller Foundation's International Health Division.

In 1956, Elsie Stephenson (1916-1967) was appointed as the first director of the newly founded unit, with a remit to develop nurse education and to establish a research base for the discipline. The unit was initially based in George Square but in 1957 moved to Chalmers Street and was renamed the Nursing Studies Unit.

In 1959, Audrey L. John achieved the first PhD in Nursing for her thesis 'A Study of the Psychiatric Nurse and his/her Role in the Care of the Mentally Sick'.

In a pioneering move, 1960 saw the first nursing registration programme integrated with a five-year Master of Arts. In the same year, a two-year programme in Advanced Nursing Education with Registered Nurse Teacher status was established.

In 1962, the first International School of Advanced Nursing Studies was founded at the Unit, with support from the World Health Organization, offering programmes to overseas students in nursing administration or education.

In 1963, the University of Edinburgh created a Faculty of Social Sciences, incorporating the renamed Department of Nursing Studies. In the same year lecturer Kathleen J. W. Wilson published the major nursing textbook Anatomy and Physiology (now in its 12th edition) in collaboration with Janet S. Ross. The first edition of the International Journal of Nursing Studies was also published with Elsie Stephenson as honorary editor.

In 1965, the Integrated Degree programme as replaced by the BSc Social Science (Nursing).

In 1967, Elsie Stephenson died at the tragically early age of 51. The Elsie Stephenson Fund was set up with the purpose of 'increasing opportunities for some of the best brains in Britain to develop their gifts to the full in Nursing and to encourage the Nursing profession to make appropriate use of all the tools and skills relevant to it'. This fund is still used today for regular commemorative lectures, studentships, staff development and research.

In 1968, Margaret Scott Wright (1923-2008) was appointed as Stephenson's successor. In the same year, the Edwina, Countess Mountbatten Trust was set up to support undergraduate students who wished to observe nursing practices in different parts of the world.

In 1971 Margaret Scott Wright was appointed to the first Chair of Nursing Studies in Europe. The Scottish Home and Health Department give financial support for the establishment of the first Nursing Research Unit in a European university, with Lisbeth Hockey (1918-2004) appointed as its first director.

1973, the Inaugural Elsie Stephenson Memorial Lecture was delivered by Professor Helen Carpenter of the University of Toronto.

In 1975, certificated courses in nurse teaching and administration were replaced by Masters degrees in Nursing Education and Nursing Administration.

In 1976, Margaret Scott Wright left to become Director of the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia. She was succeeded by Annie Altschul (1919-2001), who had lectured in the department since 1964.

In 1979, an innovative MSc in Health Education was established in collaboration with the Health Education Board for Scotland.

In 1980, lecturer Alison J. Tierney co-authored The Elements of Nursing: a Model of Nursing based on a Model of Living with Nancy Roper and Win Logan. This work was the first UK model of nursing to be published.

In 1983, both Lisbeth Hockey and Annie Altschul retired. Penny Prophit was appointed as the second Director of the Nursing Research Unit. In 1984, however, Prophit was appointed to the Chair of Nursing Studies, and Alison Tierney succeeded her as Director of the Nursing Research Unit.

In 1989, (Helen Sinclair becomes Head of Department,) a lectureship in Anatomy and Physiology was funded Dr Kathleen Wilson(; Dr Roger Watson was appointed).

In 1990, the undergraduate degree was offered as an Honours degree in recognition of its academic content.

In 1993,(Following the retiral of Helen Sinclair,Dr Kath Melia becomes Head of Department) links were forged with the University of Navarre, Pamplona in Spain, facilitating postgraduate students to undertake the MSc in Nursing and Health.

In 1994, the Nursing Research Unit was incorporated into the Department to embed research activity within Nursing Studies. The department also established a MSc in Cancer Nursing, partly funded by Macmillan Cancer Relief Fund, with Nora Jodrell appointed as Course Director. (Lecturer Tonks Fawcett co-authored Nursing Practice: Hospital and Home – The Adult (now in its 4th edition) with Margaret Alexander and Phyllis Runciman.

In 1996, Kath M. Melia, who had been Head of Department since 1993, was appointed the fourth Chair of Nursing Studies. (Her predecessor, Penny Prophit had resigned in 1992.)

In 1997, Alison Tierney received a Personal Chair in Nursing Research.

In 2001, the undergraduate programme was revised to increase community emphasis and renamed the Bachelor of Nursing with Honours. (Dr Rosemary Mander appointed Head of School of Nursing Studies.)

Following university restructuring in 2002, Nursing Studies moved as a subject area to the School of Health in Social Science in the College of Humanities and Social Science. Professor Kath Melia was appointed as the the first Head of School. (Tonks Fawcett was appointed Head of Nursing Studies.)

2005 - Dr Rosemary Mander receives a Personal Chair in Midwifery.

2007 - Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL), is incorporated into the nursing curriculum. Deborah Ritchie appointed Head of Nursing Studies.

2010 - Professor Pam Smith appointed Head of Nursing Studies. Online undergraduate and postgraduate programmes developed for the Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN), at the University of Malawi.

2012 - Tonks Fawcett receives a Personal Chair in Student Learning(Nurse Education).

2013 - Innovative Masters of Nursing in Clinical Research established.

2014 - Dr Sheila Rodgers appointed Head of Nursing Studies.

In 2015 Nursing Studies at Edinburgh was ranked top in the UK in The Guardian’s university league table for nursing and midwifery for the tenth year in succession.

Professors of Nursing Studies


  • Linda Pollock, Pam Smith, and Daniel Kelly,'Leaps in the Dark: Celebrating 60 years of Nursing Studies at the University of Edinburgh' [[1], accessed 7 December 2017]
  • Is there a way of citing the brochure?