NUR 6 Evolution of Nursing Theories Discussion Historical Eras of Nursing’s Search for Specialized Knowledge Historical Era Major Question Emphasis Outcom

NUR 6 Evolution of Nursing Theories Discussion Historical Eras of Nursing’s Search for Specialized Knowledge

Historical Era Major Question Emphasis Outcomes Emerging Goal
Curriculum era: 1900–1940s What curriculum content should student nurses study to be nurses? Courses included in nursing programs. Standardized curricula for diploma programs. Develop specialized knowledge and higher education.
Research era: 1950–1970s What is the focus for nursing research? Role of nurses and what to research. Problem studies and studies of nurses. Isolated studies do not yield unified knowledge.
Graduate education era: 1950–1970s What knowledge is needed for the practice of nursing? Carving out an advanced role and basis for nursing practice. Nurses have an important role in health care. Focus graduate education on knowledge development.
Theory era: 1980–1990s How do these frameworks guide research and practice? There are many ways to think about nursing. Nursing theoretical works shift the focus to the patient. Theories guide nursing research and practice.
Theory utilization era: 21st century What new theories are needed to produce evidence for quality care? Nursing theory guides research, practice, education, and administration. Middle-range theory may be from quantitative or qualitative approaches.

Nursing frameworks produce knowledge (evidence) for quality care.

Early Theorists of Historical Significance

Hildegard E. Peplau 1909–1999
Virginia Henderson 1897–1996
Faye Glenn Abdellah 1919 to present
Earnestine Wiedenbach 1900–1996
Lydia Hall 1906–1969
Joyce Travelbee 1926–1973
Kathryn E. Barnard 1938 to present
Evelyn Adam 1929 to present
Nancy Roper * (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. 1918–2004
Winifred Logan * (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Alison J. Tierney * (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Ida Jean Orlando Pelletier 1926–2007

*Roper, Logan, and Tierney collaborated on The Roper-Logan-Tierney Model of Nursing.

Criteria for Development of the Professional Status of Nursing

1. Utilizes in its practice a well-defined and well-organized body of specialized knowledge [that] is on the intellectual level of the higher learning

2. Constantly enlarges the body of knowledge it uses and improves its techniques of education and service through use of the scientific method

3. Entrusts the education of its practitioners to institutions of higher education

4. Applies its body of knowledge in practical services vital to human and social welfare

5. Functions autonomously in the formulation of professional policy and thereby in the control of professional activity

6. Attracts individuals with intellectual and personal qualities of exalting service above personal gain who recognize their chosen occupation as a life work

7. Strives to compensate its practitioners by providing freedom of action, opportunity for continuous professional growth, and economic security

Data from Bixler, G. K., & Bixler, R. W. (1959). The professional status of nursing. American Journal of Nursing, 59(8), 1142–1146.


This chapter has introduced the vital nature of nursing theoretical knowledge from the perspective of its history and significance. History traces the progression toward professional status with a focus on development of knowledge on which to base nursing practice and verifies that nurses increase their professional power when using systematic theoretical evidence for critical thinking and decision making (McCrae, 2012). The significance of nursing theory is verified as nurses use theory and theory-based evidence to structure their practice and quality of care improves. They are able to not only sort patient data quickly, decide on appropriate nursing action, deliver care, and evaluate outcomes but also discuss the nature of their practice clearly with other health professionals, which is vital for nurse participation in interdisciplinary care. Finally, considering nursing practice in a theory context for education helps students develop analytical skills and critical thinking ability as they clarify their values and assumptions. Theory guides education, practice, research, and administration (Alligood, 2014; Chinn & Kramer, 2015; Fawcett & DeSanto-Madeya, 2012; Meleis, 2012).

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