Guest post: “Let’s talk theory”; Perspectives from the Associate Degree Nursing World

Contributors:
Emma Crocker, DNP, RN
Patrick McMurray, BSN, RN
Shelley Mitchell, BA, BSN, MS, RN
Elizabeth Mizerek, MSN, RN, FN-CSA, CEN, CPEN,
CNE, FAEN, PhD Candidate
Timothy Joseph Sowicz, Ph.D., NP-C

Authors’ Disclosure:
The authors would like to note that all members
put in equal amounts of work in this project. 


Nursing theory is the foundation of our practice, the way we differentiate nursing from other professions and disciplines. As readers of the Nursology blog, we assume that we do not need to discuss why nursing theory is essential to our practice. We would instead like to call your attention to a concerning trend – the lack of nursing theory in associate degree nursing programs. Please note that we are making generalizations based on our experience of graduating from and/or working in associate degree programs. There is a paucity of current research surrounding theory in associate degree programs.

According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), in 2019 50% licensure applicants were graduates from ADN and diploma schools of nursing; this number has historically been even higher. In other words, half of our newly practicing nurses may not have foundational knowledge of nursing theory to apply to their practice, further widening the theory practice gap. If theory content is not being integrated into the initial nursing education for half of our profession, how can we convince them it is important, let alone essential to their praxis? 

 We suspect that several factors contribute to the lack of theory in some ADN programs. Many nursing education programs are externally accredited by agencies such as the Accreditation Commission on Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Previous accreditation standards required nursing education programs to explicitly name the nursing theorists that guide the curriculum. This emphasis has been removed from current standards, allowing nursing education programs to use general educational theorists such as Knowles Adult Learning Theory.

 Another critical point is that ADN programs do not usually require doctoral-level preparation for nurse faculty. According to the 2018-2019 National League of Nursing’s annual survey of nursing schools, 74% of schools replied that it was “somewhat difficult” or “challenging” to hire new faculty. The primary reasons cited were an inability to offer competitive salaries and a lack of qualified candidates. ADN programs usually have fewer financial resources and do not have research missions. Therefore, they have difficulty attracting and retaining faculty with research-focused doctorates and higher educational credentials. This may result in ADN faculty who do not have the knowledge and/or experience with integrating theory into pre-licensure education.

Without the requirements of accreditation and with faculty who are not supported and enabled to the inclusion of nursing theory, it is our anecdotal observation that many ADN programs have dropped the emphasis on nursing theory. We have personally worked in nursing education programs where theory is either given cursory attention or not included in the curriculum at all. This has resulted in removing or deemphasizing nursing theory from a large portion of the nursing professional population.

 Nursing theory is currently situated in a place where it feels like it only belongs to some nurses, those embedded in academia or research, never practice. This has created a culture where most nurses and students cringe at the thought of theory-based content, with some complaining it has very little to do with “real-world” nursing practice. Nursing theory has not been made relevant to the modern nurse.

 Many nurse scholars might use this conversation as yet another reason why the entry level of nursing practice should be raised. Students seeking nursing education in the U.S. encounter many barriers, such as socioeconomic status, geography, structural racism, and more. Many of these students choose to attend ADN programs rather than seek a BSN, especially as their entry to practice. If we want to continue to grow the practice of nursing in the US, we need to support and encourage ADN programs, especially in the integration of nursing theory in practice.

The authors of this blog post greatly value the contributions of ADN programs, ADN graduates, and ADN educators. We would like to challenge all educators, scholars, and researchers to consider how we might restore nursing theory to its rightful place in all levels of nursing education. Nursing theory belongs to all nurses – not just those in higher education. 

Nursologists, what do you think?

About the contributors:

Emma Crocker

Emma Crocker, DNP, RN – CHIPS Health and Wellness Center, St, Louis, Missouri. Emma is a equity driven, population health quality improvement doctorate and advocate, devoted to ensuring the implementation of constituent-centered health policies, enabling communities to thrive located in St. Louis, Missouri. Twitter: @EmmaCrockerDNP.

Patrick McMurray

Patrick McMurray, BSN, RN – Adjunct nursing faculty, Robeson Community College, Lumberton, North Carolina. Patrick is a Adjunct Nursing Faculty at Robeson Community College, in N.C. Patrick is patient about community college nursing education and championing social change via equitable access to nursing education. Twitter: @nursePatMacRN.

Shelley Mitchell

Shelley Mitchell, BA, BSN, MS, RN – Professor of Nursing, Austin Community College, Austin, Texas. Shelley contains multitudes. She teaches full-time in Austin Community College’s Professional Nursing Program, which has been voted as the best in the region for three years in a row, and she is deeply involved in the college’s equity and inclusion work. She has a BA in English from Oberlin College in addition to her nursing education, and she reads comics and writes queer romance in her spare time. Twitter: @ProfShelleyRN

Elizabeth Mizerek

Elizabeth Mizerek, MSN, RN, FN-CSA, CEN, CPEN, CNE, FAEN, PhD Candidate – Director of Nursing Education, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, New Jersey.  Elizabeth is the Director of Nursing Education at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey. She is currently a PhD candidate at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania pursuing a doctoral degree in Nursing Science. Her research interests include nursing education, patient safety, and emergency preparedness.

Tim Sowicz

Timothy Joseph Sowicz, Ph.D., NP-C – Assistant Professor, UNC Greensboro, Greensboro, NC. Tim is an assistant professor at UNC Greensboro. His research is concerned with aspects of living with heroin and opioid use disorders, especially following an overdose.