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Interview with Dr. Barbara Carper





 We are delighted to publish the first “ANS General Topic” article, which is an interview with Dr Barbara A. Carper by Elizabeth R. Eisenhauer, RN, BSN, MLS.  Dr. Carper is the author of one of the most important articles published in ANS – “Fundamental Patterns of Knowing in Nursing,” published in the first issue of the journal in 1978!  Still among the most frequently cited articles in nursing, Dr Carper’s insights set in motion a major shift in nursing scholarship and practice.

Ms Eisenhauer shared this description of her experience interviewing Dr. Carper, and of her own reflections on the meaning of Dr. Carper’s ideas:

I remember being so struck by the paper “Fundamental patterns of knowing in nursing” that my librarian skills immediately kicked in —What else had Barbara Carper written? Where was she? What more did she have to say? When Google provided few answers to these questions, I knew I had to seek her out. Her views about there being so much more to nursing than science are foundational; I couldn’t let it go. However, I was afraid people would think I was going off on a zany tangent, so initially, I kept the project a secret.

Eventually, I knew that I needed to discuss it on a professional level. So I confided in one of my professors, Dr. Arslanian-Engoren, at the University of Michigan. I had gotten the idea for the project while I was sitting in her advanced nursing theory development class. She was very supportive and encouraging of the project! If she had dismissed it, I am not sure I would have had the courage to pursue it so ardently. I am very grateful for her mentorship.

The “patterns of knowing” are also ways of making decisions, and this relates to my research on informed consent and decision-making among clinical research volunteers who are asked to donate biospecimens for research purposes. For example, there is a movement to collect, store, analyze, and even manipulate DNA. But DNA can alternatively be seen as more than just scientific material. It can be seen in a spiritual sense as the “essence of our individuality” [1]. Therefore, tinkering with it may have implications for some people that go beyond science and empirics. Research volunteers may not understand or consider these ethical implications, until they are explicated, weighed against volunteers’ personal values, and the consequences clearly described [2]. Helping patients or research volunteers clarify their values and make informed choices are acts of caring, fundamental to nursing [3,4]. Carper discusses the connection of veracity and transparency, during informed consent, to caring and nursing in her 1979 paper, “The ethics of caring” [3]. I fear such values are being overlooked in the modern age of blanket consent for genetic research. Again, there is so much more than science that goes into caring for and knowing a patient.

On a personal note, talking to Dr. Carper and getting to meet her was phenomenal—-a dream come true! Anyone who has had the experience of getting to meet someone they so admire will understand. I was awestruck, and she was so humble and gracious. It was an amazing, remarkable experience that I will never forget, and for which I am most grateful.


  1. This phrase has been used by numerous people, including Senator Pete V. Domenici in discussing the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2005. See: Weeden, JL.      Genetic liberty, Genetic property: Protecting genetic information. Ave Maria Law Review.2006; 4(2): 611-664. (Quote p.631).
  2. Tomlinson, T, Kaplowitz, SA and Faulkner, M. Do people care what’s done with their biobanked samples? IRB: Ethics & Human Research. 2014;36(4):8-15.
  3. Carper BA. The ethics of caring. Adv Nurs Sci. 1979;1(3):11-20.
  4. Dungan, JM. Dungan model of dynamic integration. International Journal of Nursing Terminologies and Classifications. 1997;8(1);17-28.

Visit the ANS web site today to download Ms. Eisenhauer’s interview, and return here to contribute your ideas and comments to further discussion!

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