Importance of Nursing Theory


Why is Nursing Theory Important?

by John L. Burkley, MSN, RN

A brief review of the history of nursing education will put Nursing Theory into context. At one time physicians traveled from house to house by horse and buggy in order to see patients. A physician might have only seen a few patients in a single day. Hospitals emerged with the purpose of centralizing patients so that doctors could see many patients within a short amount of time. Because hospitals needed caregivers, they recruited and trained people to care for the patients as a means of providing inexpensive help to the hospital. Early hospitals each had a different curriculum for training nurses, however nursing education was eventually standardized, and evolved into the nursing diploma programs which were the mainstay of nursing education for many years. At that time nursing was perceived as assistive personnel and was based on medicine; often perceived  as a handmaiden to the physician. However, by the middle of the Twentieth Century, nursing education began to transition from the hospital to academia. This was nursing’s first step forward in attaining the status of an independent profession. Because academia and higher levels of education fostered independent thinking, a number of nursing theorists with corresponding theories and models began to emerge representing a variety of perspectives on nursing. Nursing theory provides nursing practice with a framework which supports nursing as an independent profession solidly grounding the profession in nursing. The practice of nursing which is not based on at least one nursing theorist is not practicing professional nursing, since it is not grounded in nursing; it is providing generic care based on medicine. Likewise, studies which are not supported by a nursing theoretical framework are not nursing science/research, even if they concern nursing, but merely medical/hospital related research. Nursing theory and models are nursing’s professional backbone. Nursing theory guides nursing in defining its own professional perameters.

So where is nursing theory? Most nursing curriculums are based on a nursing theorist, and nursing research is often supported by a nursing theory. Nursing practice which is the ultimate goal of education and research has failed to incorporate nursing theory into its culture where it is needed the most, and is largely task and medicine focused. The majority of those working in hands-on nursing practice are undergraduate nurses who know very little about nursing theory. All nursing practice environments should be based on at least one nursing theorist/model providing nurses working together with a common perspective and language, along with a framework which supports and grounds nursing as an independent profession. If nursing is to gain the professional recognition and autonomy that it deserves, it must incorporate and emphasize nursing theories/models into research, practice, education and administration.

*Nursing theory provides a framework for nursing practice, research, education and administration and provides professional boundaries, grounding nursing as an independent profession.
Theory-Guided Nursing = Professional Nursing
Click on the below links for valuable information on nursing theorists, models and theories:
                                                              Myself with nursing theorist Betty Neuman October 2008
                             Below photos from Neuman Systems Model Symposium in Las Vegas, June 2009.
                                      Margaret Louis, Betty Neuman, Jacquline Fawcette, and myself
                                         Diane Breckenridge, myself, Afaf Meleis, Lois Lowry
                                                Diane Breckenridge, myself, Betty Neuman
                                   Margaret Louis, Betty Neuman, Jacqueline Fawcette, myself

Martha Rogers Interview 1


Martha Rogers Interview 2

Madeleine Leininger
In Memory of Madeleine Leininger who passed away on Friday, August 10, 2012.