King’s Conceptual System Theory. 

History and Background

In the mid-1960s, Imogene King wrote of the need for focus, organization, and use of a nursing knowledge base (King, 1968). She proposed that knowledge for nursing resulted from the systematic use and validation of knowledge about concepts relevant to nursing situations. The use of knowledge in critical thinking results in decisions that are implemented in professional nursing practice.

In 1971, King proposed a conceptual system for nursing around four concepts she considered universal to the discipline of nursing: social systems, health, perception, and interpersonal relationships. These areas were identified from the synthesis and reformulation of concepts using inductive and deductive reasoning, critical thinking, and extensive review of nursing and literature from other health-related disciplines. Concepts were organized around individuals as personal systems, small groups as interpersonal systems, and larger social systems such as community and school (King, 1971). Role, status, social organization, communication, information, and energy were identified as basic concepts of functions of systems. King proposed that concepts were interrelated and could be used across systems to identify the essence of nursing.

King expanded the conceptual system during the 1970s by further explicating the nature of persons and environment, strengthening the general systems orientation, and expanding the concepts. A more formalized conceptual system of personal, interpersonal, and social systems was presented in 1981. Concepts in the personal system were perception, self, growth and development, body image, time, and space. Concepts in the interpersonal system were human interaction, communication, transactions, role, and stress. Concepts in the social system were organization, authority, power, status, and decision making.

Also presented in the 1981 text was the Theory of Goal Attainment, derived from the personal and interpersonal systems and a process model of human interactions. The Theory of Goal Attainment specifically addresses how nurses interact with patients to achieve health goals. The initial concepts of the theory (perception, communication, interaction, transaction, self, role, and decision making) represented the essence of nursing (King, 1981, 2006a,b). The model of human interaction defines the observable behaviors in nurse-patient interactions that lead to transactions.

Although no major changes were made to the conceptual system or Theory of Goal Attainment since A Theory for Nursing: Systems, Concepts, Process, King provided clarification, explanation, and some additional concepts up until her death in 2007. The concepts of learning and coping were added; the concept of space was redefined as personal space; and the concept of stress was expanded to include stressors (King, 1990, 1991, 2008). King explicated the philosophical basis and enduring nature of the conceptual system and theory for nursing with emphasis on the twenty-first century and the world as community (Fawcett, 2001; King, 1990, 1994, 1995a,b, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2006a, 2006b, 2007, 2008). Contemporary themes and applications include information systems, nursing diagnoses, technological advances, changes in organization and delivery of health care for individuals and families (Alligood, 2010; Fewster-Thuente & Velsor-Friedrich, 2008; Frey & Sieloff, 1995; Gianfermi & Buchholz, 2011; Killeen & King, 2007; Sieloff & Frey, 2007; Sieloff, Killeen, & Frey, 2010; Sieloff & Messmer, 2010). In addition, others have extended the conceptual system by developing and testing middle-range theories (Alligood, 2007; Doornbos, 2007; duMont, 2007; Ehrenberger, Alligood, Thomas, et al., 2007; Fairfax, 2007; Frey, 1995; Hernandez, 2007; Kameoka, Funashima, & Sugimori, 2007; Killeen & King, 2007; May, 2007; Reed, 2007; Shartz-Hopko, 2007; Sieloff, 2007; Sieloff & Bularzik, 2011; Walker & Alligood, 2001; Wicks, Rice, & Talley, 2007; Zurakowski, 2007). Practice applications are numerous and cross all health care settings, age groups, and diagnoses (Sieloff, Killeen, & Frey, 2010). Overall, King’s conceptual system and Theory of Goal Attainment represent significant theoretical structures for theory development and theory-based practice for nursing. Overview of King’s Conceptual System and Theory of Goal Attainment

King’s conceptual system is based on the assumption that human beings are the focus of nursing. The goal of nursing is health promotion, maintenance, and/or restoration; care of the sick or injured; and care of the dying (King, 1992). King (1996) states that, “nursing’s domain involves human beings, families, and communities as a framework within which nurses make transactions in multiple environments with health as a goal” (p. 61). The linkage between interactions and health is behavior, or human acts. Nurses must have the knowledge and skill to observe and interpret behavior and intervene in the behavioral realm to assist individuals and groups cope with health, illness, and crisis (King, 1981). Concepts gleaned from an extensive review of the nursing literature organize knowledge about individuals, groups, and society (King, 1971, 1992). King notes that the concepts are often interrelated and can be applied across systems. According to King (1981, 1988, 1991), concepts are critical because they provide knowledge that is applicable to practice. Systems and concepts within King’s conceptual system and Theory of Goal Attainment are described and defined in the following section. Personal Systems

Individuals are personal systems (King, 1981). Each individual is an open, total, unique system in constant interaction with the environment. Interactions between and among personal systems are the focus of King’s conceptual system. Patients, family members, friends, other health care professionals, clergy, and nurses are just a few examples of individuals who interact in the nursing practice environment. The following concepts provide foundational knowledge that contributes to understanding individuals as personal systems:

• Perception: “A process of organizing, interpreting, and transforming information from sense data and memory” (King, 1981, p. 24).

• Self: King (1981) cites developmental psychologist’s A. T. Jersild’s (1952) definition of self when explaining that “knowledge of self is a key to understanding human behavior because self is the way I define me to myself and to others. Self is all that I am. I am a whole person. Self is what I think of me and what I am capable of being and doing. Self is subjective in that it is what I think I should be or would like to be” (p. 26). Self is a dynamic, action-oriented open system.

• Growth and development: “The processes that take place in an individual’s life that help the individual move from potential capacity for achievement to self-actualization” (King, 1981, p. 31).

• Body image: “An individual’s perceptions of his/her own body, others’ reactions to his/her appearance which results from others’ reactions to self” (King, 1981, p. 33).

• Learning: “A process of sensory perception, conceptualization, and critical thinking involving multiple experiences in which changes in concepts, skills, symbols, habits, and values can be evaluated in observable behaviors and inferred from behavioral manifestation” (King, 1986, p. 24).

• Time: “Duration between the occurrence of one event and occurrence of another event” (King, 1981, p. 24).

• Personal space: “Existing in all directions and is the same everywhere” (King, 1981, p. 37).

• Coping: King (1981) used the term coping in her discussion of the concept of stress in the interpersonal system and in later discussions of the Theory of Goal Attainment (King, 1992, 1997) without explicit definition.

kings theory and related questions

What is the Personal system in King’s theory?

In the personal system, King considers each person as a unique being and a whole which is always in interaction with the environment. Thus, each person should be considered as a personal system which includes the dimensions of perception, self, growth and development, body image, personal space, learning, and coping.

Why is Imogene King theory important?

King’s theory of goal attainment provides a framework to assist current students. The use of technological and communication devices is a discourse for students and educators. Nurse educators will need to mentor millennial students as new pioneers in practice.

What is King’s conceptual system and theory of goal attainment?

King’s conceptual system and Theory of Goal Attainment were “based on an overall assumption that the focus of nursing is human beings interacting with their environment, leading to a state of health for individuals, which is an ability to function in social roles.”


  1. Discuss and explain King’s Conceptual System Theory.
    1. First explain the 3 systems and provide examples of each system
    2. Explain how the systems influence goal attainment
    3. How could King’s theory help define a clinical quality problem?
    4. Apply this theory to a potential practice quality improvement initiative within your clinical practice.
    5. How could a quality committee align outcomes with King’s Conceptual System Theory?
    6. What additional nursing theory from our readings could also align with an improved quality of practice initiative?

This paper should include 2 outside references and the textbook. This paper should be 1250 to 1500 words in length

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