Nursing Theory Definition

Theory is defined as “a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action”. Nursing theory is “an organized framework of concepts and purposes designed to guide the practice of nursing”. The first nursing theories appeared in the late 1800s when a strong emphasis was placed on nursing education. Nursing theories are developed to explain and describe nursing care, guide nursing practice and provide a foundation for clinical decision making.

There are many different types of nursing theories. Nursing theories can be divided into “grand theories” that are applicable on a broad scale, “middle-range theories” that apply to a smaller subset of situations and “nursing practice theories” that guide nursing practice. Theories can be further divided into categories including holistic, systems, adaptation and behavioral orientations.

Who Develops Nursing Theories?

The majority of nursing theories are developed by nurses, but at times other healthcare professionals, such as physicians have provided input into the development of nursing theories. Nurses may develop a theory on their own or in collaboration with other nurses. Nurse theorists often have a desire to explain, predict and describe elements of nursing care and practice. Nurse theorists frequently draw from their academic and clinical experiences when formulating their theories. Many of the most clinically applicable nursing theories have been developed by nurses who are active in nursing practice and most acutely aware of the current state of the healthcare environment. Other times, nurse theorists are inspired by the works of previous nurse theorists and incorporate portions of another nursing theory into their own.

Nursing Theory and Nursing Practice

Nursing theories affect everyday nursing practice. Most nurses employ a number of theories in practice rather than using one theory exclusively. Using a variety of nursing theories during a given day, allows the nurse to choose the best theory to fit the situation. In an ideal setting, nursing theories serve to provide underpinnings to nursing care in every patient encounter. They help nurses use critical thinking skills, analytical skills and improve concept comprehension. Nursing theories improve patient care, patient outcomes, and nurse-patient communication. Through the use of nursing theories in practice, new knowledge and data are gleaned that can influence the future of nursing practice.

Nursing Theory and the Nursing Process

The nursing process is a scientific method used to ensure quality patient care that was first described in the 1950s and encompassed three steps. Today there are six steps in the nursing process: Assessment, nursing diagnosis, outcome identification, planning, implementation and evaluation. Each of these steps can be further divided into a number of individual steps, all with the goal of improving patient care. Many nursing theories incorporate the nursing process into their foundations. Other theories expand upon the nursing process and may add additional steps. Nursing theories can be helpful at all stages of the nursing process and may guide a nurse to perform specific actions or make certain decisions during patient care.

Nursing theories are a relatively new component of the nursing profession. Despite their recent appearance, nursing theories have a made a strong and lasting impact on the education, training and development of professional nurses. They have also influenced patient care and outcomes in everyday nursing practice. As the nursing profession continues to evolve and define itself, new nursing theories will be needed to guide nurses practicing at the bedside. Future nurse theorists should remain true to their clinical roots, making sure that theories continue to be applicable to nursing practice in the ever-changing healthcare landscape.