This last week here in the USA we celebrated Nurses’ Week and then Nurses’ Day on May 12. May 12 is the birth date of two of the founders of contemporary nursing, Florence Nightingale and Martha Rogers. Nightingale ushered in an era of modern nursing beginning in the 1850’s, where women could work in a hospital setting after undergoing professional training. Just prior to Nightingale’s efforts, nursing was generally not thought of as a respected profession. Over 100 years later, Rogers brought to us a theory of Unitary Human Beings, which helps us to better understand our patients’ needs, and guides our own journey toward emancipation as a profession.
These two women, each with their own controversial and spiritual views of nursing, have greatly impacted nurses and the profession. I strongly believe that each and every nurse can also create change in the workplace. We need to find ways to first care for ourselves, and then communicate better with each other, our patients, our administrators, our legislators, and the general public. We need to bridge the gap between what many of us believe is our calling as nurses- to care deeply for our patients from a heart space- and the demands we have accepted as a profession to perform technological medical interventions. We are charged with finding our full, clear, professional voice and revolutionizing how nursing and healthcare are delivered. One area that needs more focus in our educational and professional settings is supporting nurses in utilizing theory to guide practice.
One of our living legends, Dr. Jean Watson, has worked to create a theory of human caring nursing and science of caring that each support our efforts toward professional autonomy. Watson understands the desire of most nurses to enact a caring presence for their patients, and the Watson Caring Science Institute works closely with facilities on the Magnet Status Journey. In learning to utilize human caring her theory, the nurses working in these facilities begin to feel empowered and engaged in their work on a whole new level. They return to the core of nursing as caring and they begin to create measurable changes in their practice.
Having taught nursing theory with both undergraduate and graduate nursing students for some years now, I do often see resistance to use of nursing theory. Nurses in general are unaware of the importance of applying theory to practice and using theory to support the generation of a new body of evidence that supports the development of a caring nursing science. Because we fail to emphasize the use of theory at the pre-licensure level of education, most nurses are unaware of how nursing theory can guide their practice, support their decision making, and enrich both their personal and professional work. My job has been to create a sense of excitement about theory and support students in learning how theory guides practice. I support their analysis of theory and their ability to apply theory in practice. I have found that the majority of students often overcome their resistance to nursing theory when they begin to have hands-on experiences of how nursing theory can enrich their practice.
I would like to ask the nurses reading this to share their thoughts on nursing theory: how and where did you learn about nursing theory? How have you used nursing theory in your setting to create change?