Southern Online Journal of Nursing Research
Issue 2, Vol. 3
Leadership Frames of Nursing Chairpersons and the
Organizational Climate in Baccalaureate Nursing Programs
Nancy R. Mosser, EdD, RN, C,1 and Richard T. Walls, PhD2
1Associate Professor, Department of Nursing, Waynesburg College, Waynesburg, PA; 2Professor, Department
of Educational Psychology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
Department chairpersons are responsible for creating an organizational climate that
motivates faculty members to achieve in their respective faculty roles. This study was
undertaken to examine the use of leadership behaviors by nursing chairpersons and the
relationship of these behaviors to the organizational climate of nursing departments as
perceived by the faculty. Bolman and Deal’s leadership theory of frame analysis was used
as the theoretical framework. This theory separates leadership behaviors into four frames
(structural, human resource, political, and symbolic). Findings indicated that 60.5% of the
chairpersons were perceived by faculty members to demonstrate or use the behaviors as
described in one or more of the leadership frames. Faculty members perceived their
chairpersons to use the human resource frame the most, followed by the structural frame,
the symbolic frame, and the political frame. The strongest relationships occurred for (a)
the human resource leadership frame with the organizational climate domain of
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.2
consideration, (b) the structural frame with the production emphasis domain, and (c) the
political frame and the symbolic frame with the consideration domain. The use of
combinations of leadership frames (paired frame, multi-frame, and all four frames) by
chairpersons was most associated with the organizational climate domains of
consideration, intimacy, and production emphasis, as opposed to no frame or single frame
use. This study proposes that the leadership theory of frame analysis should be included in
graduate programs that educate nurses to assume leadership roles. In addition, the
findings may prove useful to search committees when selecting new department
Keywords: Nursing Education, Leadership, Organizational Climate
Introduction Unfortunately, limited studies have
been done on the climate in nursing
Academic departments form the education and the factors associated
building blocks of institutions of higher with it.8 There is also a dearth of
learning, and their functioning heavily research relating the leadership
depends upon the department behaviors of nursing chairpersons to
chairperson’s leadership ability. organizational climate. Additionally, no
Department chairs are charged with nursing research has been done using
creating a shared vision for the Bolman and Deal’s leadership theory of
department, and they are responsible for frame analysis.9 Thus, this investigation
developing a climate conducive to was undertaken to examine the use of
motivating faculty members and leadership frames among nursing
encouraging scholarship. In addition, chairpersons and their relationship to
they should create a supportive the organizational climate of nursing
communication climate that emphasizes departments as perceived by the faculty.
listening skills, thus demonstrating
respect and empowerment for faculty Leadership
members and students. The The study of leadership was initiated
organizational climate exudes early in the twentieth century, beginning
excitement when department leadership with trait theory, which suggested that
is strong, and it is the chair who creates leaders are endowed with specific traits
the climate.1 Creation of a positive that differentiate them from followers.10
climate is critical to faculty retention.2 A shift in the emphasis from the
Overall commitment to a department personal characteristics of leaders to
should increase when an open their behaviors as leaders began as a
environment is present and faculty result of Stodgill’s initial research.11 This
members believe they are making behavioral approach, emphasized from
meaningful contributions.3 the late 1940s to the late 1960s, was
In classic studies outside nursing, concerned with leader behavior that is
leadership behavior is a factor that has capable of being changed, focusing on
been found to be a significant the differences in the behavior of
determinant of organizational climate.4-7 effective and ineffective leaders.
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.3
However, scant attention had been paid people to gather information and to
to the possibility that leader behavior make judgments. The four frames of
was contingent upon the situation, thus leadership, as described by Bolman and
leading to the contingency approach in Deal, are the structural frame, the
the 1970s, which emphasized the human resource frame, the political
importance of situational factors and the frame, and the symbolic frame.
nature of the external environment.12 The first frame, the structural frame,
An additional approach to studying postulates that effective leaders define
leadership, transformational leadership, clear goals, establish specific roles for
was initiated by Burns in the late people, and coordinate activities
1970s.13 Transformational leaders define through the use of rules, policies, and a
the need for change, create a vision and chain of command. Structural leaders
a commitment to the vision, and inspire set direction and hold people
subordinates to achieve goals. Personal accountable. The second frame, the
values and beliefs form the basis of human resource frame, focuses on
transformational leadership. Leaders are human needs. Leaders value feelings
able to produce higher levels of and relationships, and leadership is
performance by uniting followers and accomplished through facilitation and
changing their goals and beliefs.14 empowerment. The third frame, the
Additionally, transformational political frame, assumes a continuing
leadership can be considered part of a competition among different
newer approach to the study of constituencies for scarce resources and
leadership, viz. the symbolic approach. emphasizes individual and group
Cultural and symbolic theories represent interests. Political leaders advocate,
a paradigm shift in leadership studies. negotiate, and value pragmatism. With
They do not view leadership as an the last frame, the symbolic frame,
objective act in which leaders display leaders develop symbols and culture
traits or behaviors to influence within the organization to provide a
followers, but rather as a subjective act shared sense of mission and identity.
where leaders construct a reality that Research has been conducted to
reflects desired ends and is congruent investigate how leaders use leadership
with followers’ beliefs.15 The leader frames, i.e., whether they demonstrate
invents a reality through shared the behaviors as described in each
meanings that influence perceptions and leadership frame. In a study that
activities. Leaders manage meaning sampled educational administrators in
rather than processes.16 US colleges and universities, US public
In the 1980s, Bolman and Deal schools, and public schools in
developed one of the most useful Singapore, results revealed that the
organizational typologies for viewing percentage of those who used more than
and studying leadership.17 They two frames was less than 25% in the
synthesized existing theories of three samples, while only about 5% used
leadership and organizations into four all four frames. In all three populations,
traditions, which they labeled as the symbolic frame was used in fewer
“frames.”18,19 Frames are considered to than 20% of the cases while the
be both windows on the world and structural frame was used in about 60%
lenses that bring it into focus. Frames of the samples. The three groups varied
help to order experience and allow widely in their use of the political and
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.4
human resource frames.20 Bolman and (OCDQ-HE) to measure the four climate
Deal have asserted that in an domains in higher education.
increasingly complex world, the ability Edwards32 used the OCDQ-HE and
to use more than one frame should found a significant relationship between
increase a person’s ability to act the dean’s leadership style, as measured
effectively and make clear judgments. by House’s Leader Behavior Scale, and
faculty perceptions of climate in
Organizational Climate collegiate schools of nursing. Lewis33
The concept of organizational found a weak correlation between a
climate was first described in the late measure of power orientation using
1950s. Different definitions exist, but Cavanaugh’s Power Orientation Scale,
some basic properties of climate have and the disengagement domain as
emerged over time.21 Organizational measured by the OCDQ-HE, in schools
climate characterizes properties of an of nursing.
organization and describes a unit rather
than evaluating it. In addition, it results Research Questions
from routine organizational practices Three research questions were posed:
and influences members’ attitudes and 1. Which leadership frames do
behaviors. nursing faculty members perceive
In research studies climate has been that nursing chairpersons use?
shown to influence variables such as 2. What are the relationships
motivation, productivity, and job between single leadership frame
satisfaction.22-24 Climate is also use by nursing chairpersons and
considered beneficial for organizational the organizational climate
development efforts.25 In other studies, domains of consideration,
the variable of leadership was found to intimacy, disengagement, and
have an important influence on production emphasis as perceived
organizational climate.26-29 by the nursing faculty?
Borrevik,30 after reviewing the work 3. What are the relationships
of Halpin and Croft,31 concluded that between the use of combinations
there were four climate domains, or of leadership frames by nursing
categories of organizational climate, chairpersons and the
found in higher education. The four organizational climate domains
climate domains are: (1) consideration, as perceived by the faculty?
characterized by the chair’s supportive
role toward faculty (an open climate); Methods
(2) intimacy, which refers to a social-
needs satisfaction not necessarily Institutional review board approval
related to task accomplishments (an was obtained prior to initiation of the
open climate); (3) disengagement, study. A descriptive study design was
related to fractionalization within the used to survey the nursing faculty, in
faculty (a closed climate); and (4) which leadership frame use by nursing
production emphasis, associated with chairpersons was examined in relation
close supervision of the faculty (a closed to organizational climate. A query letter
climate). Borrevik developed the was sent to the nursing chairpersons of
Organizational Climate Description all 136 baccalaureate nursing programs
Questionnaire-Higher Education in the American Association of Colleges
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.5
of Nursing (AACN) North Atlantic Bolman and Deal have reported
Region (as designated by the AACN), Cronbach’s alpha for the four frame
requesting the names of the measures as high, ranging from .91 to
instructional faculty members who had .93. Additionally, factor analysis using
no administrative title and who held a principal components and varimax
full time position as a professor, rotation, yielded a high degree of
associate professor, assistant professor, internal consistency.35,36
or instructor. Seventy chairpersons Each of the four frames of leadership
responded, with 60 schools providing is represented by eight items describing
the names of 605 faculty members. Each leader behaviors. Using a five-point
of the 605 faculty members received a Likert scale, each faculty member rated
packet including: an introductory letter his or her department chairperson,
guaranteeing confidentiality, a defined as the administrator of the
leadership instrument, an nursing program, in terms of
organizational climate questionnaire, a demonstrating leader behaviors (1=
demographic questionnaire, and a Never, 5 = Always). A mean score was
stamped, faculty-coded return envelope. calculated for each frame. Leadership
Envelopes were coded only as a follow- frame use was operationally defined as a
up mechanism to non-responders. The mean of 4.0 or higher for a given subset
instruments (n = 253) were returned of leadership questions; thus, chairs
directly to the researcher for data were perceived as using a leadership
analysis, for a response rate of 42 frame with a mean score of 4.0 or
percent. Data were reported in aggregate higher. Accordingly, this definition
form and did not identify faculty yielded reasonable splits between
members, chairpersons, or institutions. endorsements and non-endorsements,
and was conceptually based on the
Instruments parameters of the five-point Likert scale.
Three questionnaires sent to nursing The OCDQ-HE assesses the
faculty were: (1) Bolman and Deal’s organizational climate of academic
Leadership Orientations Instrument departments in institutions of higher
(Other), (2) Borrevik’s Organizational learning. The 42-item form of the
Climate Description Questionnaire- OCDQ-HE contains four subsets
Higher Education (OCDQ-HE), and (3) addressing the climate domains.
a demographic questionnaire. Cronbach’s alphas for the climate
Approximately 15 to 20 minutes were domains were .93 for consideration (12
required to complete all three items), .84 for intimacy (9 items), .68
components. for disengagement (11 items), and .71 for
The leadership instrument exists in production emphasis (10 items). Factor
two parallel forms: one for leaders to analysis, using varimax rotation,
rate themselves (self), and one for established construct validity.37
subordinates to rate their leaders Nursing faculty members used a five-
(other). This study used the Leadership point Likert scale to rate the extent to
Orientations Instrument (Other), that which the survey items occurred in their
consists of 32 questions addressing academic department (1 = Almost
leader behaviors from the viewpoints of Never, 5 = Always). Means were
subordinates, consistent with Bolman calculated for each climate domain on
and Deal’s four frames of leadership.34 every survey.
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.6
The demographic questionnaire 16.6% of the chairs used a single frame
collected information on age, highest [structural (ST), human resource (HR),
degree earned, academic rank, tenure political (PO), or symbolic (SY)], 12.6%
status, number of years in present used paired frame combinations (two of
position, and the number of years the four frames), 9.2% used multi-frame
employed in baccalaureate nursing combinations (three of the four frames),
education. Other questions related to and 22.1% used all four frames. There
the institution and the experience of the were 6 different paired frame (ST-HR,
chair. HR-SY, ST-PO, ST-SY, HR-PO, PO-SY)
and 4 different multi-frame
Results combinations (ST-HR-PO, ST-HR-SY,
ST-PO-SY, HR-PO-SY). Within the
Highest earned degree held was the reported frame combinations (single,
master’s degree for 114 faculty and paired, multi, and all four frames),
doctorate for 138 faculty. Academic rank faculty members perceived their
ranged from instructor to full professor chairpersons using the human resource
with the following numbers: 21 frame the most (49.8%), followed by the
instructors; 118 assistant professors; 84 structural frame (43.5%), the symbolic
associate professors; and 29 professors. frame (32.4%), and finally, the political
Of the 252 faculty who reported on frame (32.0%).
tenure, 124 were tenured. Faculty Statistically significant relationships
members were at their current between single leadership frame use by
institutions for a mean of 10 years and nursing chairpersons and the
in baccalaureate nursing education for a organizational climate domains as
mean of 13 years. Respondents were perceived by the faculty were also found.
employed in public (n = 130) and private The highest correlation was seen
(n = 120) institutions. Nursing faculty between the human resource frame and
estimated that their chairs held their consideration (r = 0.86, p = < .01). The
positions for an average of 5.5 years, structural frame correlated the highest
and the mean head count enrollment as with production emphasis (r = 0.75, p =
222 students. One of the demographic < .01), while the political frame’s
surveys was unusable, as there were strongest correlation was with
several items for which no response was consideration (r = 0.68, p = < .01).
given. Lastly, the symbolic frame had its
highest correlation with consideration
Leadership Frame Use (r=0.78, p = < .01). All four frames
Faculty reported that 60.5% of their negatively correlated with
chairpersons used leadership frames in disengagement. Both Pearson’s product-
directing the nursing programs, while moment correlation coefficients and
39.5% of the chairs showed no analysis of variance were used to analyze
leadership frame use. In other words, these same data in two different ways.
the faculty perceived that 39.5% did not Both tests yielded similar results.
demonstrate the behaviors that
comprise the four leadership frames as Combinations of Frames and
described by Bolman and Deal in their Organizational Climate
leadership questionnaire. Of the 60.5 % Statistically significant relationships
who were perceived to demonstrate use, between the use of combinations of
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.7
leadership frames by nursing chairs and the department above individual faculty
the organizational climate domains as concerns. Nursing faculty in
perceived by the faculty were found as baccalaureate nursing programs may
well (Table 1). The use of all four frames expect close supervision by the chair,
showed the highest endorsement of with the understanding that the formal
consideration, followed by paired frame goals of the department are given
use, multi-frame use, single frame use, stronger emphasis than individual goals.
and no frame use (F = 54.80, df = 4, In addition, production emphasis may
247, p < .01). Paired frame use not be considered a closed climate in
demonstrated the highest endorsement baccalaureate nursing education,
of intimacy, followed by all four frame especially if it is balanced by chair
use, multi-frame use, single frame use, endorsement of other open climates.
and no frame use (F = 12.76, df = 4, 247, Combinations of leadership frames
p < .01). No frame use showed the yielded significant findings as well.
highest endorsement of disengagement Chairpersons using the leadership frame
(a closed climate), followed by multi- combinations of all four frames, the
frame use, single frame use, all four multi-frame, and the paired frame
frame use, and paired frame use (F = demonstrated the highest endorsement
7.79, df = 4, 247, p<.01). Finally, all four of the organizational climate domains of
frame use demonstrated the highest consideration, intimacy, and production
endorsement of production emphasis, emphasis, as opposed to single and no
followed by paired frame use, multi- frame use. In contrast, no frame use was
frame use, single frame use, and no most associated with disengagement.
frame use (F = 27.54, df =4,247, p < Based on these results, faculty
.01). Tukey’s HSD Test, a post hoc test, perceptions that 39.5% of chairpersons
indicated that the means of the five used no frame and 16.6% used a single
combinations of leadership frames frame were discouraging findings.
differed significantly from all other Additionally, some results of this
combinations for each of the four study contrasted with Bolman and
climate domains. Deal’s findings.38 In this investigation,
31.3% of the respondents perceived their
Discussion chairs to use more than two frames as
opposed to less than 25% in Bolman and
All four leadership frames Deal’s study, and 22% were perceived to
(structural, human resource, political, use all four frames as opposed to about
and symbolic) correlated positively with 5% in Bolman and Deal’s research. The
the organizational climate domains of structural frame was perceived to be
consideration, intimacy, and production used less in this study (43.5%) as
emphasis, while all four frames compared to Bolman and Deal’s (60%),
negatively correlated with while the symbolic frame was perceived
disengagement. The finding that all four to be used 32.4% of the time, as opposed
frames correlated with the closed to less than 20% in Bolman and Deal’s
climate domain of production emphasis study. These differences might be
was unanticipated. Production emphasis attributable to the fact that the
is signified by close supervision of the overwhelming percentage of nursing
faculty by the chair, and the chair is chairpersons and faculty members are
known to place the mission and goals of
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.8
women, who may use frames differently. wish to structure their interview
Further study in this area is warranted. questions in ways that address Bolman
and Deal’s leadership frames. Similarly,
Implications the findings may prove beneficial to
prospective nursing faculty members
The findings of this study have seeking employment. They can use the
implications for nursing education. For leadership and organizational climate
instance, chairpersons might explore questionnaires to help construct
how they generally define goals, questions that aid them in ascertaining
establish specific roles for people, and which leadership frames are used by the
coordinate activities through the use of chair and the organizational climate
rules and policies as seen in the domains that exist within the
structural leadership frame. Chairs department.39
could reflect on how they foster Administrators and faculty members
participation and involvement, and if also may wish to use the instruments to
they listen to new ideas as promoted in assess themselves and their own
the human resource frame. In addition, departments. Use of the leadership
they could examine how they advocate questionnaire may assist chairs in
and negotiate as seen in the political examining and adapting their own
leadership frame, and explore how they leadership behaviors. The organizational
create a shared sense of mission and climate instrument could provide
identity for which the symbolic frame is information to those interested in
noted. In this study, the political and assessing the climate in their own
symbolic leadership frames were not programs and making necessary
perceived as being used as much as the improvements.
human resource and structural frames. The size of the sample, the
Chairs could make a concerted effort to geographic restrictions, and the use of
try and address these frames, since all faculty perceptions limit the results of
four frame use by chairs, as perceived by the investigation. Further studies could
the faculty, demonstrated the highest address replication with another
endorsement of consideration, while regional or national population, and
ranking low in disengagement. variables such as the experience of the
Additionally, the findings have chair and the size and type of the
implications for graduate programs institution. A valuable follow-up to the
preparing students for administrative present research could compare
positions. Graduate programs that chairpersons’ perceived leadership
educate nurses to assume leadership frame use with faculty perceptions of
roles should address the concept of chairpersons’ leadership frame use and
leadership frames and should plan the the relationship to the organizational
use of learning activities such as case climate in the department.
studies, role-playing, leadership Although additional research is
simulations, and internships that would warranted, the present findings suggest
help to provide experiential learning. relationships between leadership frame
The results of this study might prove use by chairpersons and the
useful to search committees when organizational climate in baccalaureate
selecting new department chairs. nursing programs. The organizational
Members of search committees may climate domains of consideration,
SOJNR Issue 2, Vol. 3, p.9
intimacy, and production emphasis were and all four leadership frame
most associated with chairpersons’ use combinations as opposed to no frame or
of the paired frame, the multi-frame, single frame use.
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Means and Ranks for Combinations of Frames and Climate Domains
Con Int Dis PE
Frame n M (Rank) M (Rank) M (Rank) M (Rank)
No Frame 100 3.13 (5) 2.64 (5) 2.74 (1) 3.29 (5)
Single Frame 42 3.85 (4) 3.00 (4) 2.46 (3) 3.55 (4)
Paired Frame 32 4.16 (2) 3.26 (1) 2.30 (5) 3.86 (2)
Multi-Frame 23 4.11 (3) 3.21 (3) 2.47 (2) 3.84 (3)
All Four 56 4.44 (1) 3.24 (2) 2.31 (4) 4.05 (1)
Note: Con = Consideration; Int = Intimacy; Dis = Disengagement; PE = Production Emphasis
(return to text)
The authors wish to acknowledge Dr. Marilyn Oermann, Professor of Nursing, Wayne State
University, for her suggestions on this manuscript.
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