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Why nursing theory is just as important as practice

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8 January, 2010

This was reflected in a comment my personal tutor made to me before Christmas. He asked my opinion on why students seem to neglect the theory side of the course. We had been having a discussion regarding student attitudes and how some students believe it is acceptable to be late or not turn up for the theory side of the course, how some students will have a nap, listen to music, and play games or read papers whilst in lectures yet when on placement never dream of behaving in such a way. I struggled to give him an answer.

I spend 50% out on the wards and 50% of my time in University learning the theory that underpins my knowledge. Everyone is quick to compare wards, who the nice nurse is, who the great mentor is, if they give you good hours and if they make you work weekends. Yet there never seems to be so much discussion about the academic side of being a student nurse.  Personally I enjoy the academic side as much as the practice element of being a student nurse. I enjoy being challenged to learn, to complete research. But I also love being on the wards to learn the practical skills of nursing, to increase my communication skills and completing patient care, to me the two aspects of learning compliment each other.

Most lecturers will be qualified nurses and many still work out in practice to keep their skills up to date. Lecturers will have many years of practice and experience that shouldn’t be undervalued. I personally have found the knowledge and guidance from my lecturers is second to none and directs my learning.  They want to share their knowledge and they want to help you get to grips with the course. They push you to understand that you need to know the theory to be able to apply the practice when you get out on the wards.  I am finding that I am actually starting to understand the academic side of things.  My Eureka moment was when I was watching Casualty one Saturday night and I actually understood what they were talking about! 

Your lecturers are there to provide support as well as education. My personal tutor was the one I turned to when I experienced my first arrest. He managed to make sense of the hysterical, sobbing message I had left on his answer machine and took the time to phone me back and make sure I was ok. His support and encouragement keeps me going. He has faith in me when I doubt myself and my ability. This encourages me and makes me think, if he believes in me, surely I must be doing something right???

What I am really trying to get across is don’t underestimate the academic side of your learning by placing all the importance on your practical experiences. The academic side is there to give you knowledge, broaden your horizons and challenge your ways of thinking. The practical and academic sides of being a student nurse are both important. They each compliment the other so when you qualify, the skills you have gained from both will make you a safe, competent and knowledgeable nurse.

Readers' comments (4)

  • Thank you Katrina for another insightful article.

    Although it can be quite stressful -

    studying and working full-time, then working part-time to have enough money, not to mention exams, assignments and juggling your own family commitments

    -I have always found the lecturers and personal tutors to be so inspirational. They say that nursing one of the most stressful jobs second only to teaching. The stress I experience must be nothing compared to what they go through!

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  • I see exacly what the article is trying to say, and agree with it up to a point, when the theory consists of A&P, physiology, LTC's etc. However in it's rush to be considered academic the Nursing course has a lot of modules that are only vaguely relative to Nursing, and have no importance or relation to the job we do when we get onto the ward and struggle to understand the mechanics of an illness or the reasons behind the actions that are taken, which we then have to go and find out for ourselves away from university.

    The university courses need less political, management, research and ethics modules (as interesting as some of these are) and a LOT more A&P, Medication, and illness physiology modules. Only THEN will theory be as important as practice.

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  • I believe that it is important to have knowledge and understanding on things such as ethics, however in my particular university one module of this didn't seem to be enough and we had a number of essays and exams in this area. Yes it is important to learn the ethical side of nursing in order to ensure you care for a patient holistically (just using ethics as an example), but what do you do when you have a patient who's the subject of a medical emergency? make sure the curtain is closed to maintain privacy? yes, but what else?

    I certainly believe as a student nurse we need more knowledge and understanding on illness and pathophysiology

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  • Nice article Katrina!

    To be honest, theory didn't apply to me when I was at university until the final year. I needed to "see it" and "do it" before I could apply it to theory. Instead of learning about anatomy and physiology, I was learning about the history of nursing. I found this information totally un-useful when I couldn't grasp the concept of practical nursing now. Imagine my mentors face when I told her that although I couldn’t make a bed, I knew an awful lot about the history of nursing! Theory just wasn’t as important to me at that time.

    Nursing has always been a hand’s on profession with practically minded people and although essential, I believe that theory should be applied when the student is ready. It needs to be applicable when the student is in that theory area. Eg, (I’m a teacher at college BTW) My student is attending a palliative care placement and appropriate issues are being discussed in college before the placement. We are not discussing A&E and exema, but are discussing about terminal illnesses and euthanasia etc. Theory needs to be applicable to current practise.

    Practically, I know this isn't going to be possible with 200 students on various placements BUT could groups be devised from their previous placement area’s.... ACUTE SURGERY GROUP?

    It’s an interesting thought but this may prevent students like myself previously falling asleep on the back row. Theory needs to be relevant to the student. As a staff nurse now, and I attend a ward to which I am not knowledgeable in certain terminology, my mind switches off their conversation and on to another issue. This terminology is not relevant to me..... It might even be the case that the language used by the lecturer is inappropriate.

    Can't actually remember what the initial issue was now! Anyhow, a solid article Katrina :)

    Craig

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