Throwing Shade at Nursing Theory: a Millennial’s Perspective

Welcome to Shannon Constantinides,
who is joining the Nursology.net blogging team!
Shannon also contributed the content on
Jane Georges’ Theory of Emancipatory Compassion

Dear Colleagues,

Shannon Constantinides

As a current PhD candidate (Yay! I’m making progress) and experienced NP of about a decade (Yikes! Time flies!), I have a few thoughts on Dr. Foli’s well articulated post and associated call for action/ questions regarding nursing theory in academics. It is with a great reverence for the bright minds of this community that I share these ideas with you all. Please consider my comments simply for no more than what they are: some thoughts from a novice scholar (who happens to be a millennial).

First, the humor and humility with which Dr. Foli broached the topic of “nursing students throwing shade at nursing theory” made her post fun to read and so relatable!

Second, and not entirely related to the topic at hand (which I’ll get to), as an NP who often precepts students, I loved the question posed to students, “Are you running from something in your current job, or running toward a goal of being a nurse practitioner?” I think probably too often nurses go to NP (Nurse Practitioner) school without a clear idea of what the role and day-to-day of the job entails. On a number of occasions, I’ve gently refused to write letters of recommendation to NP school for newly graduated BSN students, because I truly believe that the knowledge and experience gained by working as a nurse is beyond measure. First and foremost, NPs are nurses. I can’t underscore enough the importance of building a strong professional foundation. Equally as important is taking the time and opportunities to explore the endless possibilities that come with nursing practice (finding what sets one’s soul on fire, so to speak). I think this goes for new-grad RNs who are fixated on any one speciality, as well. I would not be on the path that has lead me down my professional and academic journey without first practicing in a number of areas (being in the military made this an easy possibility). Having experience in a number of areas has been invaluable to my career as an APN – clinically and in broadening my understanding healthcare systems and the lived experience of health, itself.

Third, I think the struggle to connect theory to practice comes from a few places. Overall, however, I think it may be time we re-envision and modernize how we approach teaching theory, in the first place. We did this for clinical practice, right? How many of our colleagues ever trained in a sim lab, for example? Updating the what, how, and environment in which we teach doesn’t have to be limited to the parameters of the clinical side of practice. I think the sample principles apply to teaching theory, especially if we want students to learn how to integrate the two. So a few thoughts…

Why is there SO MUCH reading!?

I’ve deduced that what has seemed like an ungodly amount of reading over the course of my education has served the following purposes: 1) taught me the practical knowledge needed not kill my patients (literally), 2) exposed me to new ideas, and 3) exercised my brain and made it grow in its ability to comprehend complex and abstract ideas – just like exercising a muscle.

In regard to the amount of reading that goes along with nursing education: I had NO idea! And I say that as a naturally voracious reader who grew up in a home that purposely had no tv! Honestly, I think 99.99% of students have no idea what they’re getting into when they sign up for nursing education – at any place on the educational spectrum. Students need to be reassured, probably on repeat, that the reading has a purpose. As much as the discourse in nursing espouses that we ascribe to the anti-handholding/ law-of-equal-suffering/ eat-our-young narrative, reassuring your students is more than being nice or helpful. On a deeper level, reassuring your students demonstrates the ethics of compassion and caring that is preached in the pedagogy of the discipline.

To that point, your millennial students will also to be curious as to why you’ve selected specific reading material. I’m not saying you need to, or should, justify each reading assignment. However, giving students a general idea of why certain material is important, especially for theory and philosophy, will help create a connection to the content. I say this with love for my generation, but millennials (and post-millennials) are a different animal. We’re a “special” breed, if you will. We have been raised to question everything. Every. Thing. It’s in our DNA. And you’re just in luck, because there’s A LOT of us! By many accounts, we’re the largest generation in history! (That is, millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996, and post-millennials – people born between 1997 and the present day).

Now, to that point, let’s not also forget that the frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until late adolescence/ early adulthood. So, some of your students who are innately left-brained, “linear” thinkers (who, inherently, may have a harder time wrapping their heads around some of the non-linear concepts in theory and philosophy), will also be young, concrete thinkers. Their brains literally have just only developed to a point of abstract thinking understanding the basic concepts related to the more esoteric ideas we talk about in theory. And this issue is compounded by unique educational, professional, and personal backgrounds and upbringings of each student.

For example, it wasn’t until my masters-level (and more so, PhD) studies, that I really started understanding some of the more abstruse, Delphic concepts in nursing theory. As a BSN and MSN grad of the CU system, I naturally gravitated to Watson’s work – but generally – the more experienced I became professionally, academically, and in life, the more I came to understand the “other” theories I was learning about in school. As an 18-year-old, direct-entry BSN student I could understand (because I saw a way to concretely apply) Orem’s self care theory, Leininger’s cultural care theory, or Carper’s Pattens of Knowing (and, yes, I now know and understand why Carper said in a 2015 interview with Eisenhauer that her work was never meant to be a theory – but try telling that to a young, brand-new, nursing student! There’s no denying a certain level of concreteness to aspects of Carper’s work. This is something I love about Carper’s model – she wanted it to be readily tangible to the user, and it is!)

In reality, it’s taken me nearly two decades to “get the hang of nursing theory” and be able to digest and truly understand the works of such thinkers as Rogers, Patterson and Zderad, or Newman. Or actually appreciate the depth, intricacy, salience, and beauty of Watson’s work. In fact, as a BSN student, I remember sitting in a guest-lecture with Dr. Newman, and being the left-brainer that I am, raised my hand said, “Um, Dr. Newman, I don’t get it…” Looking back, I’m still mortified by this encounter! I was THAT student (insert #facepalm here!).

#facepalm

So, really, it’s taken the better part of my adult life to develop the intellectual ability and emotional maturity needed to sit with and understand complex ideas. There are articles, book chapters, and entire texts I now consider the Holy Grail, which when I first read them specifically remember thinking, “WT_?? Is this even in English???” And to that point: don’t forget that your students are literally learning new languages! They’re not only learning the technical language of healthcare, but also the language the informs the epistemology of nursing. So, again, I think showing your students a little patience, forgiving, and compassionate grace is key.

Likewise, it’s my opinion that once we get to a certain point in our careers (as a clinicians, scholars, educators, administrators, etc.) we take for granted knowledge that has become second-nature. I can say, with complete certainty, that I fall prey to this with my own clinical NP students. What do you mean you don’t have a clear, concise, and evidence-based plan for managing your older adult patient who has insanely complicated medial, psycho-emotional, and social needs?? We have to remember that knowledge for students – whether clinical or related to theory and philosophy – is often entirely new or being presented at a depth they weren’t expected to go to in the past. In addition, with APN students where we’re building off the knowledge and experience that comes from working as an RN and RN education. As far as theory and philosophy are concerned – that knowledge is really complicated, is often brand-new, and often isn’t intuitively grounded in day-to-day nursing work and education. Your students are learning new stuff, a new language, and and learning to think in an entirely different way. Patience is key. Finding a way to foster connection to the content is key. My suggestion would be to keep Benner’s Novice-to-Expert model in the forefront of your minds when you’re working with students – especially when it comes to teaching theory and philosophy.

Middle range theory & the ladder of abstraction.

I think a lot of students aren’t exposed to middle-range theories. This statement is, of course, purely based off anecdote consisting of my own academic and professional experiences, and what sound to be similar experiences shared by my colleagues. It’s my opinion that middle-range theory may an optimal place to bridge the theory-practice gap. Certainly, this bridge will be influenced by the paradigm framing the theory or the paradigm to that which the nurse knowingly or unknowingly ascribes. However, as Smith and Liehr (2014) stated, middle range theories are more straightforward and lie in-between that which is all-inclusive and that which is highly situation-specific. In this regard, a few exemplars that made sense to me and my peers included Story Theory, the Theory of Unpleasant Symptoms, and the Theory of Caregiving Dynamics.

I also think teaching the levels of theory abstraction as described by Smith and Liehr, even at the BSN level, could help make a little more sense of nursing theory in terms of applicability. Do I apply this theory at the bedside? In a specific situation? Does it guide a certain aspect of my practice? Or, is it something that will guide the entirety of how I approach practice, patients, and the general experience of health?

I think it’s so tempting to start off with the classics: the grand nursing theories. But honestly, some (ok, basically all) of those theories are super complicated! For your newer, less experienced learners, maybe initially include something a little more concrete, like a micro theory? Help your students dip their toes in the water, so to speak, rather than throwing them directly into the deep end. I think a lot of harm can be done when faculty knowingly or unknowingly teach at a level that is over the students’ heads. Your students will get there, trust me, but keep it simple in the beginning. Help your students build a strong foundation. You’d do the same with patient care knowledge and skills, right? So, same idea for nursing theory.

Aging-out and aging-into the current sociopolitical & cultural context

I can’t stress this enough: nursing faculty have a critical place not only as clinical and scholarly role models, but in modeling the language and behavior of advocates and voice-givers. When I started my BSN in 2000, and even by the time I graduated with my NP in 2011,  I didn’t really know what social justice was. I couldn’t really answer the question, “What are you doing to be an advocate?” Over the course of my PhD program, however (and thankfully so), I’ve had the amazing fortune to work with and be mentored by some exceptionally stellar minds in my quest to figure out my place as an advocate and voice-giver (especially Dr’s Peggy Chinn, Patricia Liehr, Jane Georges, Debra Hain and Deb D’Avolio… to name a few). And, boy, do I wish I’d had a social justice/ emancipatory focused curriculum as a BSN or MSN student, like our students do at FAU!

So how does this relate to teaching theory? As feminist Holly Whitaker (2019) wrote in her book, “Quit Like a Woman,” we are now, likely more so than ever, aware of our own oppression, the oppression of others, and aware of how our actions or inactions have abetted the oppression and marginalization of others. Whitaker states, and I whole-heartedly agree, that thanks to movements started by the LGBTQIA community, radical feminists, and women of color, our common vernacular now includes words like privilege, misogyny, and patriarchy. (I would also add terms like toxic masculinity and inclusivity). Likewise, I contend that our language reflects a paradigmatic shift that is occurring in society: we are moving toward a more humanistic way in how we view and interact with others. For example, we’re moving away from socially constructed and derogatory descriptors. Rather than calling someone “disabled” we acknowledge that the individual is of other-ability. Rather than being called “elderly” or “geriatric” we honor the experience that comes with older adulthood. We recognize that someone is involved in “sex work” is a “sex worker,” not a “prostitute.” We now see that the term “violence against women” is problematic in that it is passive and alleviates the blame of the perpetrator.

Students, especially millennials, are probably hip to these issues and this type of language, but this is not an assumption to make. It is your responsibility as a faculty member to stay informed and engaged in this regard. Just like you would teach from a place of best evidence regarding clinical practice and patient care, stay up to date on what’s going on in the world, the language being used, and the issues that matter to your students.

The good news is that we now have theories and books that are grounded in a social-justice paradigm! Take, for example, Georges’ (2013) Emancipatory Theory of Compassion (or really, any of Dr. Georges’ work dealing with the nature of human suffering). I adore Georges’ work (and work she’s done collaboratively with Dr. Susan Benedict) for a number of reasons, especially how she takes the concept of suffering head-on, and calls out nursing in regard to the profession’s historical (and generally unspoken) complicit involvement in oppression. Intentionally moving away from the traditional, Western narrative that has a propensity for the patriarchy, Georges’ work focuses instead on alleviating suffering through compassion, empowerment, and deconstruction of power relations. Falk-Rafael’s Critical Caring model, for example, also goes in this direction as it looks at role power relations have in public health outcomes. Likewise, I consider Kagan, Smith, and Chinn’s (2016) Philosophies and Practices of Emancipatory Nursing, and the works there within, a critical must-read for anyone wanting to study or practice nursing theory in context of today’s sociopolitical climate. To that point, a quick search on Amazon revealed a number of nursing textbooks centered around contemporary theory-based approaches for caring for vulnerable populations, approaches to healthcare policy, and approaches for healthcare advocacy.

And, to very briefly touch on the topic of technology in nursing theory: if your students are my age (I’m 37) or younger, we never knew what it was like to live without technology (let alone practice nursing without computers, smart phones, apps, EHRs, or the internet!). My husband, a physician (I know, I married the enemy), is 10 years older than me. We work in the same primary care practice. Even though he is fairly tech savvy, it’s astonishing how much longer it takes him to adapt clinical technology compared to those of us in the clinic who are a decade younger. I’m not saying this is true across the spectrum: I absolutely interact with younger clinicians who have less tech know-how than our colleagues a few decades our senior. What I’m saying is that those of us who were born into and grew up practicing nursing in the information age have a different relationship and understanding of healthcare (and view of the world, in general) than those even a decade ahead of us.

Several years ago, at the suggestion of my fairly tech savvy entrepreneur dad, I read “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman. My dad thought this work was incredibly forward-thinking. The concept and manifestation of a globalized humanity secondary to advances in technology was mind-blowing to him. However, I remember thinking, “yeah… so this is not a new thing to me, Dad…” Keep in mind that the world has always looked so different to those of us in the millennial and post-millennial generations. In terms of nursing theory, Watson’s work – I think especially Caring Science as Sacred Science and Unitary Caring Science – both hit the nail on the head in terms of addressing globalization and caring for a global humanity.

Additionally, the exciting thing about nursing theory in the information age is that new theories are emerging to deal with contemporary, tech-related issues! Dr. Rosario Locsin’s Theory of Technological Competency as Caring, for example, is pertinent and relatable for today’s students. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Locsin speak about his theory. I was, again, THAT student. I asked Dr. Locsin, “Are your theory and views on artificial intelligence and humanoids questioning how we define existence?” “No. Not necessarily,” he said, “But what if A.I. develops to the point where it can’t be differentiated from naturally living beings? What if a humanoid develops feelings? Can they develop feelings?” These may sound far-fetched, but the future is not that far away and technology is developing at a screaming pace! The philosophic questions, ethical dilemmas, and reality your students will face in the future will undoubtedly look like something out of a sci-fi novel – and for that I applaud Dr. Locsin for boldly going where no nursing theorist has gone before!

This next statement might be considered heresy, but for the sake of discussion, hear me out: I believe some theories are aging-out, or at least need to update their language. This is absolutely not a dig on older theories: let me be very clear about that! Some of the older theories were the embryonic origins of what, over time, have evolved into modern nursing theory and practice. Due to the social and political culture of the time, and in order to be taken seriously, the structure and verbiage of early nursing theories were informed by a patriarchal/ paternalistic, medical narrative that was dictated by an aristocracy of upper class, white, male physicians, scientists, politicians, and power-elite. People were either ill or well. Self-agency was not a thing if you were not a straight, white, cis-male. Social justice was not a thing. Human rights were not a thing. The right to health was not a thing (and arguably is still not a thing). Hearing the critical voices of underserved, under-represented, vulnerable, or marginalized populations was not a thing. Talking about energy (let alone shared energy) was definitely not a thing – or at least not a thing that was spoken of publicly or in circles of “hard science.” The male doctor gave the female nurse orders, and the female nurse would then perform prescribed actions.

I conducted a review of caring theories as a part of my comprehensive exam last summer. Again, let me be very clear: these theories were crafted by minds much more brilliant than I could ever hope mine to be, and there is indescribable wealth, depth, knowledge, and wisdom imbedded in these works. Truly, many will remain as enduring masterpieces of the discipline, and their authors have become beacons of progressive, forward-though. However. …. However, in conducting this review, I found that a few theories that by their nature of being framed by a context that no longer matches the current sociopolitical and cultural climate, have perpetuated the aforementioned narrative informed by the patriarchy and the notion of power imbalance. I believe this is antithetical to the emancipatory movement we are experiencing in nursing – and society, as a whole – where, for example, the out-dated adage of “enabling” the other should be updated to a focus on empowerment.

So, some closing thoughts:

Your students live and will work in a world that that changing at an unfathomable pace. While I believe that a great many works and ideas in nursing theory and philosophy are truly timeless and relevant, some are not. Stay up to date on what is pertinent and what is being published. Teach the classics, but also teach new, relevant theories. Try new articles. Try new textbooks. Talk to your students about what they think is timely and relevant.

And more importantly …. talk to your students. Connect with them. Millennials, in particular, like to be engaged and involved! Finding innovative and creative ways to connect with your students is especially important with the proliferation of online programs, where many students will never set foot campus. Trust me: your effort in this regard will be well worth it! Whether in the classroom or the online environment, I got the most from faculty who taught from a place of compassion and connection – where they openly and earnestly worked to understand the student perspective and got us involved and invested in what we were learning. In fact, I’m still in touch with a few faculty from both my BSN and MSN programs! (Dr’s Lea Gaydos, Lynne Bryant, Amy Silva-Smith…). Dr. Gaydos and Dr. Bryant were my BSN and MSN theory and philosophy professors, respectively, and were two of the first people I called when I had my first theory-related article published in 2019 in NSQ. It’s been nearly 20 years since I took Dr. Gaydos’ class, and I still have my term paper from that course. All I can say is: what an abomination! I was in tears, laughing, when I reread that “gem” last year!

My point is, these professors planted the seed of interest in nursing scholarship at the doctoral level. You will have THAT student. I was THAT student. Who am I kidding… I’m still THAT student! The student who wants to know “why” about everything. The student who will question everything. The student who will argue every last point on an assignment. Trust me when I say this: no matter how much shade your students throw at theory, you ARE making a difference. Because THAT one student … the one who pushed you and nearly drove you crazy … that student may be the one who grows up and wants to continue this dialogue.

Finally, and most importantly: I truly admire and respect Dr. Foli for putting herself out there. The issue she raises (students throwing shade at nursing theory) is very real and very much alive and well in the world of nursing academics. As Dr. Jane Georges once said to me, “violence can be done to students’ ideas,” and I applaud Dr. Foli in her quest to improve the academic experience for her learners.

Sources

Benedict, S. & Georges, JM. Nurses in the Nazi “euthanasia” program. Advances in Nursing Science: 2009; 32(1): 63-74.

Chinn, PL. & Falk-Rafael, A. Embracing the focus of the discipline of nursing: critical caring pedagogy. Journal of Nursing Scholarship: 2018; 50(6): 687-984.

Eisenhauer, ER. An interview with Dr. Barbara Caper. Advances in Nursing Science: 2015; 38(2): 73-81.

Falk-Rafael, A. Nursology: Critical Caring. https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/critical-caring/. Accessed June 2, 2019.

Falk-Rafael, A. Advancing nursing theory through theory-guided practice: the emergence of a critical caring theory. Advances in Nursing Science: 2005; 28(1): 38-49.

Georges, HM. Biopower, compassion, and nursing. In: Philosophies and practices of emancipatory nursing: social justice as praxis. Kagan, PL., Smith, MC., & Chinn, PL. (eds). New York: Routledge; 2014: 51-63.

Georges, JM. An emancipatory theory of compassion for nursing. Advances in Nursing Science: 2013; 36(1): 2-9.

Georges, JM. Evidence of the unspeakable: biopower, compassion, and nursing. Advances in Nursing Science: 2011; 34(2): 130-135.

Georges, JM. Bio-power, Agamben, and emerging nursing knowledge. Advances in Nursing Science: 2008(A); 31(1): 4-12.

Georges, JM. The politics of suffering: implications for nursing science. Advances in Nursing Science: 2004; 27(4): 250-256.

Kagan, P.N., Smith, M.C. & Chinn, P. (eds.) (2014). Philosophies and practices of emancipatory nursing. Routledge.

Lenz, E.R. & Pugh, L.C. (2014). The theory of unpleasant symptoms. In: Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. (Smith, M.J & Liehr, P.R, eds). Springer.

Locsin R. Technological competency as caring in nursing: co-creating moments in nursing occurring within the universal technological domain. The Journal of Theory Construction & Testing: 2016; 20(1): 5-11.

Smith, M.J. & Liehr, P.R. (eds). (2014). Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. Springer.

Smith, M.J. & Liehr, P.R. (2014). Story theory. In: Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. (Smith, M.J & Liehr, P.R, eds). Springer.

Watson, J. Unitary caring science: the philosophy and praxis of nursing. Louisville: The University Press of Colorado; 2018.

Watson, J. Caring science as sacred science. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company; 2005.

Whitaker, H. (2020). Quit like a woman: the radical choice not to drink in a culture obsessed with alcohol. Random House.

Williams, L. (2014). Theory of caregiving dynamics. In: Middle range theory for nursing, 3rd ed. (Smith, M.J & Liehr, P.R, eds). Springer.

Say It Ain’t So:  Graduate Students Shade Nursing Theory!

Karen J. Foli, PhD, RN, FAAN

I’d finished grading the last of the master’s-level students’ theory in nursing papers. I’d turned in final grades and then, the message came through: anonymous student course evaluations were ready for my review. I took a long sip of water and put my organic, no preservative, granola bar aside.

Steady, old girl, I said to myself. You have tenure. How bad could they be? I’d done my very best in this hybrid-structured course. The graduate students met on campus about five times throughout the semester and the rest of the “class meetings” were virtual. I liked the hybrid structure as it offered the students a sense of community; yet the online component allowed them to be self-directed as adult learners. I tried to impart a rudimentary foundation of the philosophy of science, and used discourse that included logical positivism, epistemology and ontology. The course content included a deep dive into concept analysis, nursing theorists and the major health behavior theories and – I thought – many applications of nursing theory to practice decisions and interventions. Assignments were student-personalized, asking for them to express their own philosophies of nursing care, present on nursing theorists’ work, and take a stab at concept analysis or critique a published analysis.

Yet, here I sat, wanting to avoid the dreaded student evaluations. No delaying it any longer.  I logged into the student evaluation portal and winced as I read the polarized comments. Many were very complimentary: “Course well organized. Grading was clear with helpful comments given on papers.” A continuation of gratifying comments: “Didn’t think I’d like theory, but I did. Liked the examples. Related it to real life. Dr. Foli’s passion really came through and helped make the class enjoyable.”

Then, one student’s comments made me stop. “Too many readings. I didn’t read most of them. I had to take time away from studying for patho and that’s what a nurse practitioner needs to know.”

Flinging the granola bar into the trash (it tasted like sawdust anyway), I reached for the Little Debbie Valentine cake.

What??? I had practically done summersaults trying to get the practice-to-theory connection in this class. And then I paused to reflect on my audience: students enrolled to become primary care nurse practitioners. Many continued to work at the bedside in highly stressful jobs. They all had personal responsibilities, some of which overwhelmed them (an ill child, a sick mother).

When I spoke to the class at the beginning of the semester, I asked them a question that I didn’t need a public response to: “Are you running from something in your current job or running toward a goal of being a nurse practitioner?” Upon hearing this question, I always looked for the nonverbal responses: heads slightly turned down, eyes glancing sideways. Mouths in grimaces. The ones that seemed to embrace the new career path continued to look directly at me.

So I knew from the beginning of the semester this was a tough audience. These folks were frontline, point-of-service providers who had witnessed and experienced nurse-specific trauma on an ongoing basis. Sadly, for the majority of them, nursing theory meant little.

They were here in this first semester graduate class to learn the facts, just the facts. Or as Chinn and Kramer (2015) describe it: empirical knowledge. As advanced practice nurses, they would be tasked to diagnose, prescribe, recommend a treatment plan, and manage illnesses. They’d also engage with the patients to promote wellness and encourage disease prevention. What did theory have to do with all that?

Well, as I read the students’ comments, I wondered what more I could do to ensure they saw the connection between all the ways of knowing (Chinn & Kramer, 2015), how to apply middle-range theories to their practices, and use theory as an organizing framework to track efforts. I wanted them to see patients as dynamic individuals, not merely as objects that may or may not adhere to a treatment plan.

As I put the Little Debbie wrapper in the trashcan, I felt invigorated (it could have been the sugar rush). They may have thrown some shade at theory, but I pulled out the course syllabus, reviewed it, and made note of how I could continue to refine the course so that every student would see the value of theory in primary care. I did this because it’s so important for our profession. Nursing theory gives us identity, ways to increase nursing science/nursology and patient care practices. As the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the timing couldn’t be better!

What about you?  If you have suggestions for me on how to strengthen the theory-to-primary care advanced practice connection in a master’s level course, please forward them in the comments below.

Or, better yet, go to Nursology’s Teaching/Learning Strategies (https://nursology.net/resources/teaching-strategies/) and complete the form to submit a strategy to strengthen the link between advanced practitioners’ theory-guided knowledge and nursing practice.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Making Nursing Theory Real!

In March, 2019, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH hosted the conference: “Nursing Theory: A 50 Year Perspective, Past and Future”.  One theme that emerged from the lively dialogue at the conference was that nursing theory should be introduced and integrated in all pre-licensure programs. At the same time, participants noted that many pre-licensure educators lack knowledge and skills for teaching nursing theory.

Energized by the March theory conference, several nurse educators from Northeast Ohio joined together to offer a workshop on the basics of teaching nursing theory. The workshop, Making it Real: Connecting Nursing Theory to Nursing Education, was co-sponsored by Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Ursuline College, and Lorain County Community College. There was no registration fee, parking was free, light refreshments were provided, and 2 contact hours of CE were awarded.

Patricia Sharpnack speaking at Nursing Theory: Making It Real

We scheduled the workshop to precede a Northeast Ohio League for Nursing (NEOLN) dinner meeting and program at the same location. The event was publicized through emails to directors of pre-licensure programs and, in the spirit of collaboration, the theory group and NEOLN each publicized the other’s event.

The program was coordinated by Dr. Mary Quinn-Griffin (CWRU). The planners kept the workshop to two hours so participants could see that they did not need extensive,highly theoretical content to begin incorporating theory in their class, lab, or clinical teaching. During the first hour, Drs. Joyce Fitzpatrick and Deborah Lindell (CWRU), and Dr. Patricia Sharpnack (Ursuline College) presented content on the disciplinary perspective, nuts and bolts of theories, core concepts of nursing, and strategies for integrating nursing theory in pre-licensure education. During the second hour, the participants worked in small groups to identify, and report out on, ways they could integrate nursing theory in their teaching.

Participants engaged in a group activity

We were delighted by the response to our workshop! In two days, we filled the 35 seats and had a waiting list! So, we repeated this program in November. Evaluations were highly positive and participants suggested topics for future programs, such as in-depth discussion and application of specific theories. We look forward to Making It Real, Phase II.

Please contact Debbie Lindell for more information about our theory workshop.

Shaping the Future of Nursing Education and Practice: AACN Essentials Revision and the Next Generation NCLEX

In support of our mission “to advance the discipline of nursing/nursology through equitable and rigorous knowledge development using innovative nursing theory in all settings of practice, education, research and policy,” the Nursing Theory Collective (NTC) emailed the workgroup chairs of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Essentials Task Forces on September 16th, 2019. In this email, we as the NTC advanced our support for a strong nursing perspective and theoretical orientation in the planned revisions to the Essentials documents that form the basis for nursing education at all levels of study. To date, we have received positive responses from the chairs of the baccalaureate, master’s, and DNP essentials revision workgroups. We understand that AACN has invited nursing faculty to have discussions regarding the Essentials, both at their universities and future conferences. We have provided our letter below to foster open dialogue regarding the importance of nursing theory in the future of nursing education. Please join these conversations as you are able and feel free to use the points we have developed as a starting point for your thoughts as well.

In addition to the effort regarding the Essentials revision, we also reached out to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) regarding the Next Generation NCLEX Project (NCSBN, 2019). As you are likely aware, the NCLEX is currently under revision with an eye toward ensuring novice nurses possess the necessary skills to detect the subtle changes in patient status, preventing deterioration, as well as avoiding errors. In pursuit of this project, the NCSBN has underscored the importance of clinical judgment and decision making in the safe practice of newly registered nurses. It is our concern that due to the absence of a framework founded in nursing knowledge and theory, the disciplinary perspective is lost such that clinical reasoning and clinical judgment devolve from a nursing skill to a generic biomedical task orientation (Bender, 2018). Moreover, the absence of nursing theory in the foundation of the Next Generation NCLEX project begs questions about our core values, how we value nursing knowledge, and to what regulation we agree to adhere (Perron & Rudge, 2015). Email communication with NCSBN about theory content and a guiding theoretical framework belied a lack of interest on their part in engaging in discussion of this issue, at least at this time. Given the role that the Essentials play in nursing education, the NTC has decided to focus on our efforts with the Essentials. We hope that, in time, with revision to the Essentials NCSBN will be motivated to consider the role of nursing theory in NCLEX and more readily engage. 

Appended below you will find our Essentials letter to the DNP workgroup, which is similar to the other two Essentials letters. Please share our letter among your colleagues to assist in the facilitation of discourse on this important topic.

Dear members of the DNP Essentials workgroup,

            We are writing to you today because of your role in the workgroup for the Revisions of American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) DNP Essentials. We represent the Nursing Theory Collective. Our collective membership, made up of experienced nurse clinicians, researchers, educators and scholars, as well as graduate students, emerged from the landmark nursing conference that was held at Case Western Reserve University called Nursing Theory: A 50 Year Perspective, Past and Future in March, 2019. 

As future educators and scholars, we represent the next generation of nurses who will implement the DNP Essentials in the process of educating nurses in the decades to come. We recognize that the DNP Essentials will have a substantive influence on the future of nursing education.

We appreciate your efforts as in the DNP Essentials workgroup and the challenges inherent in taking on the task of creating this powerful and empowering nursing document. We understand that this document, when finalized, will significantly influence the curriculum and the education of thousands of nurses in our country for many years.

It is the recognition of the lasting power and influence of the DNP Essentials recommendations that brings us to write to you today. We join with the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Center and nursing leaders from institutions of nursing education across the country to respectfully ask that you consider the following points of concern:

1. Theory and Competencies
Nursing theory, representing the wide variety of theories, frameworks, and models used in nursing and including those that provide the historical foundations of nursing, are missing from competencies within the DNP Essentials recommendations. We request that nursing theory and nursing history be included in the Essentials at every level because it is anchors us to our past, present, and future knowledge of nursing. Nursing theory, including knowing the connections to its philosophical roots, shapes who we are as nurses and highlights the critical and distinct human service of nursing that is not met by other disciplines. Education in nursing theory, along with other essential educational content, ensures a solid foundation in disciplinary knowledge and perspective for future nurses, nurse scientists, and scholars. The ongoing development of nursing theory can also lead to the creation of knowledge that can be shared across disciplines. 

2.  Disciplinary Perspective
Competency-based education in nursing must reflect our unique disciplinary perspective with a focus on protecting, promoting and restoring health and well-being, the prevention of illness and injury, the alleviation of suffering (ANA, 2015, p.1) and perspectives on humanizing the health experience (Reed, 1997; Willis, Grace & Roy, 2008). The provision of nursing theory as a foundation for nursing education reinforces our discipline-specific perspective. Nurses need to be competent in articulating the history, voice, and vision of nursing. 

3. Nursing-Centered Frameworks 
Competencies derived from the biomedical models like the Interprofessional Domains of Practice (Englander, Cameron, Ballard, Dodge, Bull, & Aschenbrener, 2013) minimize 100 years of knowledge building that evolved within nursing to define the discipline specific contributions nursing brings to the patient care experience as a science and a discipline. This undermines the existence of the historical work that has been done in nursing theory development, and impedes the future progress of our discipline.

4. Nursing Identity
Interprofessional collaboration must be built upon a strong identity as nurses, so that each nurse can articulate what they bring to the healthcare team, highlighting the priorities that are different from but complementary to the interprofessional team. Without this perspective it will be all too easy for nurses to lose sight of their unique contributions to the interdisciplinary team.

5.  Healthcare Trends 
Healthcare trends and expectations will influence nursing’s roles and practice within healthcare delivery for the next decade, as AACN has articulated, making our strong nursing identity and unique perspective on patient care more important than ever. We are concerned that some current trends in healthcare may emphasize profit, technology and disease over the importance of nursing care, including an alarming shift away from the caring, holistic, scientific, and relationship-based nature of nursing and towards an often profit-driven, technical and biomedical model of interdisciplinary focus where nurses becoming identity-less “health care professionals.”

We envision harnessing the power of nursing through carefully constructed educational essentials to actively shape a just and equitable healthcare service model in the United States of America, and provide future nurses with a clear identity as nurses. However, our future nurses must be educated in the fundamental theoretical and philosophical foundations of nursing in order to preserve the character and ethos of our profession. 

In summary, nursing has always embraced interdisciplinary teamwork. However, we believe that our essential educational competencies must remain firmly grounded in nursing values, nursing theory, and nursing history. Educational essentials and nursing competencies must first reflect our nursing perspective, not those of other disciplines. 

We are nurses and our educational competencies should reflect nursing knowledge and nursing theory. We urge you to consider our recommendations, and how framing of the DNP Essentials within a biomedical, interdisciplinary model would minimize over 100 years of scholarly work by nurses to advance a unique disciplinary perspective and identity. We further recognize the impact that DNP-prepared nurses will have in the future of nursing and the future of healthcare, underscoring the urgency of our concerns.

We acknowledge and appreciate all of the hard work your committee has put forth on this important topic. We hope that you will consider our position in your future revisions of the DNP Essentials. If you wish to have further dialogue on this issue, we as future and present nurse leaders would appreciate the opportunity to engage further.

With gratitude,
The Nursing Theory Collective   

Cosigned by:
Brandon Brown, EdD Student, MSN, RN-BC, CNL 
Ellen Buckner PhD, RN, CNE, AE-C, FNAP
Clare Butt, RN, PhD 
Jill Byrne, MSN, RN, CNOR, PhD Student
Gayle L Casterline, PhD, RN, AHN-BC
Peggy L. Chinn, RN, PhD, DSc(Hon), FAAN
Da’Lynn Clayton, PhD, RN 
Catherine Cuchetti, RN, MSN
Jessica Dillard-Wright, PhD Candidate, MA, CNM, RN
Margaret Erickson, PhD, RN, CNS, APRN, APHN-BC
Rosemary W. Eustace, PhD, RN, PHNA-BC
Jacqueline Fawcett, RN; PhD; ScD (hon); FAAN, ANEF
Pamela Grace, RN, PhD, FAAN
Consuelo Grant, PhD Student, BSN, RN
Debra R. Hanna, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC
Jane Hopkins Walsh, PhD Candidate, PNP-BC, RN
Yuanyuan Jin, PhD Student, MSN, RN
Amy Kenefick Moore, PhD, RN, APRN, CNM, FNP-BC, APHN-BC, HWNC-BC
Kan Koffi, RN, AD, B.Sc., M.Sc.
Carrie Langley, PhD Student, MSN, MPH, RN 
Patricia Liehr, PhD, RN
Chloe Littzen, PhD Student, MSN, RN, AE-C
Colleen Maykut, RN, BScN, MN, DNP
Melissa McCoy, MSN, RN
Angela Norton, PhD Student, MSN/Ed, RN
Christina Nyirati, PhD, RN
Judith Pare, PhD, RN
Marilyn Ray, RN, PhD, CTN-A, FSfAA, FAAN, FESPCH (hon.), FNAP
Pamela Reed, PhD, RN, FAAN
M. Kay Sandor, PhD, RN, LPC, AHN-BC
Phyllis Shanley Hansell, DdD
Mike Taylor RN, MHA, CDE
Billie S. Vance, MSN, FNP-BC
Sylvia K. Wood, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Rorry Zahourek, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC (ret), AHN-BC, FAAN

References

American Nurses Association. (2015). Nursing scope and standards of practice (3rd ed.). Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Association.

Bender, M. (2018). Re-conceptualizing the nursing metaparadigm: Articulating the philosophical ontology of the nursing discipline that orients inquiry and practice. Nursing Inquiry, 25(3), 1-9. doi: 10.1111/nin.12243

Englander, R., Cameron, T., Ballard, A. J., Dodge, J., Bull, J., & Aschenbrener, C. A. (2013). Toward a common taxonomy of competency domains for the health professions and competencies for physicians. Academic Medicine, 88(8), 1088-1094. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31829a3b2b

NCSBN. (2019). Next generation NCLEX project. Retrieved from https://www.ncsbn.org/next-generation-nclex.htm 

Perron, A., & Rudge, T. (2015). On the Politics of Ignorance in Nursing and Health Care: Knowing Ignorance. New York, NY: Routledge.

Reed, P. G. (1997). Nursing: The ontology of the discipline. Nursing Science Quarterly, 10(2), 76-79. doi: 10.1177/089431849701000207

Willis, D. G., Grace, P. J., & Roy, C. (2008). A central unifying focus for the discipline: facilitating humanization, meaning, choice, quality of life, and healing in living and dying. Advances in Nursing Science, 31(1), E28-E40. doi: 10.1097/01.ANS.0000311534.04059.d9.

How to Teach Nursology: A New Resource on Nursology.net

The nursology.net management team is very pleased to announce a new resource for educators of nursology – Teaching/Learning Strategies. This resource is devoted to explanations of diverse approaches to teaching nursology. The first approach focuses on one way to teach the APPLICATION of nursology conceptual models and theories for practice. This teaching strategy involves teams of students role playing nursologists working within the context of various nursology conceptual models and theories that are applied to a fictional multi-generational, multi-cultural family. (See https://nursology.net/resources/teaching-the-application-of-conceptual-models-and-theories-of-nursology/) Comments about this teaching strategy are welcome.

I am confident that the creativity of all nursologists who each in academic and/or clinical settings will be evident as other approaches to teaching nursology are added to this section of nursology.net. Therefore, the management team invites all educators to use the content guidelines and forms found on the “Teaching/Learning Strategies” page to submit explanations of effective teaching strategies.

I would like to thank Deborah Lindell, a new member of our management team, for her exceptionally fine work developing the content guidelines.

Student response to a doctoral “Knowledge Development in Nursing” course

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing PhD program offers a required course entitled Knowledge Development in Nursing. In the Fall 2018 semester, the course was co-taught by Dr. Anne Ersig and Dr. Danny Willis. The course examines the history of knowledge development in the discipline of nursing. PhD students are prepared to understand nursing philosophical perspectives; scientific thinking; conceptual models; conceptual analysis; grand, middle-range, and situation-specific theory; the nature, sources, syntax, and development of knowledge in the discipline.

One of the major strengths we witnessed in co-teaching the Knowledge Development in Nursing course together is the diversity of perspectives and ways of knowing that the students were exposed to given our complementary ways of approaching our phenomenon of interest (see more about our own approaches below). We were inspired every time the course met. The students enrolled in our course represented life experience and perspectives from around the world – China, Jordan, South Korea, Turkey, Uganda, and the United States. It was such a wonderful experience! We were particularly moved by Yuanyuan Jin’s reflection on her learning journey through the Knowledge Development in Nursing course and felt compelled to ask her to share her story with Nursology.net. When we asked YuanYuan, she commented to Dr. Willis that she hopes to be one of the future professors and leaders in nursing theory and knowledge development for the future. We could not have been prouder to hear this as it offers hope for the future of our discipline. Enjoy Yuanyuan’s reflection as much as we did!!

Question: Reflect on how your thinking about your identity as a nurse scholar and researcher has evolved over this semester. How do you think this might influence your future as a nurse scholar?

Yuanyuan Jin, MSN, RN, PhD student

For me, this was a very short but intensive semester. I guess I will never say that the 4-year nursing PhD program is too long again!

I greatly appreciated the learning experience in N815 (Knowledge Development in Nursing) during the 15 weeks. In short, it was like a journey. Dan and Anne took us to a place where we have heard of and never been there before. We were curious about everything we saw during this journey. Local people in that place communicated with each other by using a language we were not familiar with and sometimes we even had difficulty understanding their dialogue. But Dan and Anne were very good guides and interpreters, they gave us a lot of important resources and information to help us understand the history of this place, where the local people came from, what they are doing there, and where they are heading to.

The place we went to is called Nursing Knowledge Development, the local people were the theorists like Dr. Fawcett, Dr. Chinn, Dr. Roy, Dr. Rogers, Dr. Johnson and many other nursing scientists who have/had dedicated themselves to nursing knowledge development. The language we had difficulty understanding including metaparadigm, paradigm, philosophies, conceptual models, theories, empirical indicators, ontology and epistemology, etc. The resources and information Dan and Anne gave to us were readings before the class, explanations during the class and summaries after the class. The history of Nursing Knowledge Development was that nursing used to be a task-oriented occupation, subservient to medicine with little autonomy and had no place in the academic setting. During the mid-twentieth century and the years that followed, nursing leaders in the US saw theory development as a means of firmly establishing nursing as a profession. Therefore, they are developing a unique body of nursing knowledge and using nursing theory to guide professional practice and making contribution to the health and wellbeing of people.

I like the analogy of journey because firstly, not every nurse/nursing student has the chance to go on this kind of trip (i.e., he/she is not exposed to nursing theory development), and secondly, when we are back from our trip, we can always share our experience with those who have been or have never been to that place. One big new thing I learned from this course is that we do need theory to guide our research intervention, and also how to select an appropriate theory and how to integrate theories if we are using more than one theory — this is very important. In the future, I still need to dig into how to align the theory with research question and research design and how to correctly synthesize different concepts in different theories.

Therefore, the end of the course of N815 is the very beginning of my nursing scholarship. I will be more eager and open to discussions about nursing knowledge development; I will take the responsibility to reduce people’s stereotype that nurses are just assistants of doctors; I will de-mystify theory and sensitize people to the significance of theory in their research and practice; and I will carry on nursing theorists’ lifelong learning spirits and cultivate my own academic expertise so as to contribute to the nursing knowledge development.

About the Professors’ Research

Dr. Willis has a program of research focused on explicating mental health, wellbeing, and healing for boys and men in the aftermath of experiencing traumatic and marginalizing situations of violence and abuse, primarily using qualitative approaches to knowledge development.  Dr. Willis positions his work in the central unifying focus of the discipline/values of humanization, meaning, choice, quality of life, and healing in living and dying (Willis, Grace, & Roy , 2008). In terms of nursing conceptual models and theories, his work is closely aligned with Watson’s Unitary Caring Science (Watson, 2018) and Rogers’ Science of Unitary Human Beings (Rogers, 1992). Within nursing paradigms, he locates his work within the unitary-transformative perspective (Newman, 1997) with its focus on pattern recognition and caring-healing for unitary human beings in mutual process with their environments.

Dr. Ersig’s program of research focuses on chronic stress among children, adolescents, and young adults with chronic health conditions, including biological stress and genetic influences on the human response to stress. Dr. Ersig aligns her work with Roy’s Adaptation Model. She identifies strongly with Roy’s delineation of the physiological, self-concept, role function, and interdependence modes. Roy’s model provides essential support for Dr. Ersig’s inclusion of physiological, biological, and genetic measures in her work. To obtain a more holistic view of individuals, families, and the broader social context, Dr. Ersig also incorporates measures of psychological and behavioral responses to stress.