What Is Nursing Theory? Key Concepts for DNPs

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Nurse practitioner studying nursing theory

Nursing is a unique discipline, shaped by its own concepts and practices. The defining distinctions are framed by what’s commonly known as nursing theory. But to answer the question what is nursing theory, it’s imperative to understand why nursing theory exists and why it is relevant in the context of delivering high-quality patient care.

What Is Nursing Theory?

Nursing theories are organized, knowledge-based concepts that essentially define the scope of nursing practice. This scope would include what constitutes nursing, what nurses are typically tasked with, and the reasons why these tasks are in place.

These theories are crucial to the concept of nursing. They provide a foundational knowledge of care concepts that enable those in the profession to explain what they do for patients and the reasons for their actions. This is particularly important because it helps nurses articulate evidence that justifies the methodologies behind their practice.

The roots of nurse theory date to the late 19th century when it was first used as a key concept to advance nurse education. Today, the emphasis on evidence-based practice indicates that this educational component is still strongly present.

Nursing theories are generally categorized into three different levels:

● Grand Nursing Theories — These types of theories are based on broad, abstract, and complex concepts. They provide the general framework for nursing ideas pertaining to components such as people and health. These theories typically stem from a nurse theorist’s own experience.

● Middle-Range Nursing Theories — These theories drill down into specific areas of nursing rather than deal with sweeping concepts. They can emerge from nursing practice, research, or from the theories of similar disciplines.

● Practice-Level Nursing Theories — These theories narrow their focus even further, specifically focusing on concepts concerning a defined patient population at a specified time. These theories tend to directly affect patients more than the other two types of theories.

Why Nurse Theories Are Important for DNPs

In a nutshell, nurse theories help define what nurses do and why they do it. The framework provided by various nursing theories helps shape the parameters of patient care delivery. Without these theories in place, the concept of nursing would not have a linear focus; one that organically points back to patients and treating their health-related needs. Doctors of Nursing Practice (DNPs) can use these theories to help shape care delivery strategies for a health care facility in ways that align with a range of expected outcomes.

While grand theories can help establish a larger framework, middle-range and practice-level theories allow for the governance of specific types of nurses or certain health care scenarios. An example in action is the Neuman Systems model, named after famous nursing theorist Betty Neuman. This theory is built on the concept of treating the patient holistically, based on the notion that a patient’s many needs can disrupt their entire nature. It’s a theory that psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) utilize to treat a wide range of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

Another example is the Child Health Assessment Interaction Theory created by Kathryn E. Barnard, the pioneering infant mental health researcher. This theory puts forth the importance of the caregiver, the environment, and the child as key influencers of the parent-infant relationship, and acknowledges that adaptive behavior can further influence this dynamic. Pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) and family nurse practitioners (FNPs) utilize this theory to develop treatment strategies, such as using rocking chairs in hospital nurseries, that help foster a comforting environment that encourages parent-infant bonding.

Specializing in Nursing with a BSN to DNP Degree

Nurse theories are an inextricable part of a nurse’s professional life, regardless of the patient care specialization. These theories are in place to establish the guidelines of both broad and specific nursing practices. Those aspiring to utilize the theories associated with advanced practice nursing must possess a skill set advanced enough to effectively turn these theories into practice.

The online BSN to DNP program at Regis College is designed to help students gain leadership, analytical, and communication expertise through a robust curriculum that dives deeply into nursing theory and nursing’s essential concepts. Additionally, the program offers five specializations that can help advanced practice nurses focus their craft to theories associated with specific aspects of nursing. The five specializations are as follows:

● Pediatrics (PNP) — This specialization focuses on attending to the health needs of children, from infants to teenagers.

Family (FNP) — In this specialization, students develop the acumen to treat patients of all ages.

● Psychiatric Mental Health (PMHNP) — This specialization provides care to mental health patients via techniques related to psychotherapy.

● Women’s Health (WHNP) —Those in this specialization are tasked with providing care to women, including care concerning women-specific health care issues.

● Adult Gerontology (AGNP) — The focus here is on care related to aging, chronic illness, and end-of-life scenarios.

Putting Theory Into Practice

The theories that shape nursing concepts are centrally important to health care delivery. These nursing theories, however, can only help provide high-quality health care if nursing professionals are skilled and knowledgeable enough to work effectively within their parameters.

Learn more about how the online BSN to DNP program at Regis College can help students bring nursing theories into practice — and help improve health outcomes for patients, their families, and communities.

Recommended Reading
The Benefits of a Nurse Mentorship Program for New Nurses
DNP Essentials: 5 Courses and the Skills Doctor of Nursing Practice Students Can Master
What Are Some Doctor of Nursing Practice Specialties?

ClinMed, “Conceptual Framework for Nurses in the Use of the Neuman Systems Model on Caregivers of People Suffering by Schizophrenia”
NCBI, Usefulness of Nursing Theory-Guided Practice: An Integrative Review
Nurseslabs, “Betty Neuman: Neuman systems Model”
Nurseslabs, “Nursing Theories and Theorists”
Nursology, Barnard’s Child Health Assessment Interaction Theory
Nursology, – Nurse Scholars and Their Work
Regis College Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice