nurses was to control the physical environment (Nightingale, 1860). However, the centrality of studies of the physical environment to nursing science has been lessened by the emergence of competing realms, such as studies that address other types of human relationships (e.g., social and nurse-client) and their impact on human health. One of the challenges to nursing presented by the Healthy People 2000 report is to reemphasize the importance of research related to physical environmental hazards and the health of humans.
Nursing research emanated from and continues to develop because of a societal mandate and demand for professional nursing services. As a branch of disciplinary knowledge, nursing is a professional rather than an academic discipline (Donaldson, 1995; Donaldson and Crowley, 1978), and nursing research reflects the profession's focus on the health status and care of individuals and populations.
According to the National Institute for Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health (established in 1993 to supersede the National Center for Nursing Research [National Center for Nursing Research, 1993, p. 5]):
Nursing is the discipline associated with the science and art of caregiving. Although all health professionals care about those to whom they provide services, actual acts of care-giving in health and illness are most frequently performed by nurses. The nursing discipline grew out of public demand for educated, formal caregivers devoted to the public good. Throughout its history, nursing has espoused the idea that caregiving during health and illness must be organized around individuals, families, and communities rather than diseases (Lynaugh and Fagin, 1988). Nursing also recognizes the effect of culture in shaping the definition of health and illness and interpreting human responses to physiological and biological changes.
The nursing research perspective focuses on understanding the biological and behavioral elements of human health rather than on elucidating diseases and their treatment or cure. Understanding the complex relationship between human behavior and the physical and biological environmental hazards with the aim of assisting in bringing about the requisite changes in societal action and human behavior is the major focus of nursing in environmental health. The knowledge generated from nursing research provides information on how humans achieve health, respond to threats to their health, and cope with disease, as well as how to treat disease. In nursing research the conceptualization of human (either individual or collective) is holistic, and a priority is the preservation of human autonomy in the achievement of health (Donaldson, 1995; Gortner, 1990).