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What Is the Relationship between Nursing Theory and Nursing Practice?

By D. Nelson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nursing theory consists of a collection of conclusions about real events and conditions that may be applied to real world nursing situations. Like other theories, it is often based on observations and written to be internally consistent and logical. Nursing practice, on the other hand, refers to the actual work that is performed by nurses. The relationship between nursing theory and nursing practice can be described as working in two ways. First, theory is often based on observations that are taken from practice. Second, decisions made in practice are often determined by drawing on nursing theories.

Experts in the nursing field believe that theories have four primary functions. They describe the field's components and also explain the relationships between those various components. Theories also predict what will happen in certain conditions and provide guidance for prescription./p>

In some cases, the relationship between nursing theory and nursing practice is that of a theory being used as a tool in practice. For example, if a patient with a certain condition or illness is taken under a nurse's care, the nurse may look to nursing theory to figure out which pharmaceuticals to describe, which reactions to expect, and even how to speak to the patient. A nurse can have faith that a nursing theory is accurate because it is probably based on years of observation.

The relationship between nursing theory and nursing practice can also work the other way. As nurses work with different kinds of patients who may be experiencing new conditions or displaying unfamiliar behaviors, new nursing theory can be produced, and existing nursing theory can change. Many experts believe that a theory can only be successful if it accurately describes real life situations with consistency.

Nursing theory is also often used to explain nursing practice. In this sense, the relationship between nursing theory and nursing practice is most visible in the context of nursing education. Students learning nursing procedures consult theory to better understand why certain practices are performed.

Systematization of nursing practice is another key component of the relationship between theory and practice. When research determines the optimal care protocols for a particular condition, it is important that nurses provide that same care to care when dealing with all patients suffering from the condition. A theory can act as a guide for nurses so that they can know which treatments already have been provided and which steps should come next.

Theory also can be helpful in predicting the behaviors and reactions of patients. In nursing practice, a professional can predict how patients from different age groups and with different conditions might behave according to established nursing theories. This function of theory also can allow nurses to determine which kinds of preventative measures they should take prior to treating a patient so as to avoid accidents and miscalculations.

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Discussion Comments
By Certlerant — On Feb 17, 2014
Animandel, the patient complaint you refer to can probably be blamed for policies that require nurses to get an OK from a doctor before giving a patient anything as simple as a cough drop or antacid, no matter how long it takes.

You can tell the nurse's hands are tied and he or she would love to be able to respond to routine requests more quickly.

By Glasis — On Feb 16, 2014
In today's understaffed hospitals, it seems it would be difficult to relay on a lot of nursing theory in everyday practice.

Most nurses have more patients than one nurse should be in charge of and have to respond on a priority basis.

As a result, the daily routine is often already set for a nurse based on a strict schedule.

That being said, any nurse must still be prepared to respond and rely on theory and past practice when unexpected circumstances arise.

By Animandel — On Feb 16, 2014

Drentel - Nurses get practical experience even as they are learning the theories of nursing, so when they start their first jobs they have hands-on experience. However, to answer your question, it takes different individuals different amounts of time before they feel comfortable working with patients.

One important thing to remember is that most nurses have strong support systems when they start out, and hopefully throughout their careers. The biggest difference between theory and practice is working with people. Patients remind us of the importance of nursing and add the emotional element that numbers and theories cannot recreate.

By Drentel — On Feb 15, 2014

When I started some of the jobs I have had, I was lost on the first days, and for a long time after in some cases. The good thing is that I wasn't in charge of anyone's health. How long does it take a nurse to learn to put what she or he learned in school into practice and feel comfortable at the job?

By Animandel — On Feb 15, 2014

"I'd rather have someone who has done this (nursing) before than just someone who has read the books." To all the patients I've heard utter those words in the past, I say that I can see your point. However, I never underestimate the importance of studying research and theory for nursing practice.

All nurses have to have a first day, a first week, a first year on the job. Wouldn't you rather have one who is familiar with nursing theory models rather than one who is not?

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