It’s no secret that nursing is a difficult profession. Long hours, difficult work. Tedium some of the time, intense urgency other times. When tensions are high and there is a lot of important work that needs to be done it can be difficult for even a trained professional to know what to do.

When the pace is fast and the times are tough nursing theory helps RNs make important decisions quickly. In this article, we take a look at how theory helps nurses make the right choices while also putting the entire profession into context.

What is Nursing Theory?

Nursing theory is essentially the abstraction behind the action. The thought process that goes behind how healthcare is structured on the bedside level. In school nurses spend a significant time in practicum, essentially working in hospitals as they earn their degree to develop hundreds of hours of experience before they are ever left in charge of a patient’s well-being.

But behind all that action runs a strong current of theory. Below, we take a look at how all that thinking shapes the actions of nurses when the chips are on the table.

Theory Helps Nurses Make the Most of Their Resources

Hospitals have a limited number of resources. If this concept was ever in doubt, Covid-19 has certainly clarified the issue. Whether it’s because of bed shortages or simple staffing issues, nurses are very rarely able to give every patient on their floor their undivided attention.

Decisions have to be made. Sometimes these decisions are taking place during very intense situations. To think on their feet, nurses need to have an understanding that can only be developed through having studied theory.

What situation is the most urgent? What patient’s should be prioritized based on their likelihood of achieving the best outcome?

The theory allows nurses to make these decisions intuitively without pausing during crucial moments they have no time to spare.

Better Patient Care

The nursing theory also enables nurses to better explain what is happening to the patients themselves. While practical experience can aid in the patient-to-nurse communication dynamic, it is enhanced by book learning. Theory can help nurses understand what patients should hear to not only help them understand their situations but deal with them in a way that is emotionally sustainable and conducive to recovery.

Map Out Objectives and Expected Patient Outcomes

The theory also provides nurses with the framework they need to make determinations about what outcomes patients should be achieving and what steps will be needed to get there. It’s big picture thinking that allows the nurse to consider their patient’s needs not just as they are in the moment, but on a continuum.

In situations that are rushed, intense, or simply busy, understanding the big picture equips nurses with the understanding they need to make decisions that will be most conducive to the patient’s long-term needs.

Framing the Profession

Perhaps just important to all the other considerations, the theory also just frames the profession of nursing. In the hospital, lines blur. Roles bleed together and emotions and anxiety can influence the way that any healthcare provider feels in the heat of the moment.

Theory cuts through the noise, breaking down the nursing paradigm in terms that are clear and unapologetic. Theory in all its forms helps define the role of nursing while also steering RNs towards thinking of their patients not just items on a to-do list, but people with agency and the need to be able to exercise it.

Not All Theory is the Same

It’s important to keep in mind that theory is theoretical. This means that it is subject to intense debate and scrutiny. Not all nurses will necessarily ascribe to the same theoretical predispositions. For example, a nurse who believes strongly in patient autonomy may focus intensely on patient education in their communication.

If you are a nursing student or even an RN who is considering introducing more theory into their work, you may do well to first think about what your priorities as a caregiver are. From there, you may be able to find a theoretical background that is suitable for your personality.

It’s a Profession of Advocacy

At the end of the day, nursing is all about advocating for patients, both in word and deed. The ultimate goal of any RN is to achieve the best possible outcome for their patients in a way that respects their agency. It’s a difficult balance to strike to be sure.

Theory helps clarify things by boiling the profession down to its roots and then building it back up through academic processes that prioritize reason and logic. It’s all about giving patients the best care possible. Theory helps get that done.

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Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her wellness and education knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practising yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

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