Nursing Theorists and Theories for your Nursing Assignments

Last Updated: 28 October 2021

Nursing Theory and Theorists

As a Nursing student, you will be assigned to write a paper using nursing theory. It could be an essay on a nursing theorist or one that explores a specific theory. Your instructor or professor might also assign you a capstone project or change project that needs you to select a nursing theory or theorist as part of recommending change.

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To this end, is all you need is to know what nursing theories and theorists exist in nursing literature, scroll down below.

What Are Nursing Theories?

Nursing theories are knowledge-based concepts that are organized to define the nursing practice.  Nursing theories are fundamental in defining and distinguishing nursing from other disciplines such as medicine. Moreover, nursing theories consist of purposes and conceptual frameworks that are essential in guiding nursing practice at specific and concrete standards.

Nursing as a discipline consists of concepts and frameworks that make it a vital and recognizable discipline. It involves unparalleled concepts that are significant in nursing science. The foundation of nursing knowledge helps nurses to classify, develop, and master theories and concepts concerning nursing. Generally, the science of nursing is linked to nursing theories and nursing practices.

Why uses nursing theory?

Nursing theories have a wide range of uses in the contemporary world. Nursing theory is vital in providing knowledge development guidance and education, practice, and research direction. Historical analysis of nursing reveals that nursing was not initially recognized as a profession or academic discipline. The development of nursing theory provided the grounds for classifying the discipline as profession and academic discipline rather than task-oriented occupation. Moreover, the initial training and practices of nurses were controlled and directed by the medical profession. Let us identify some of the uses of the nursing theories and their impact on nursing practice.

Purposes of Nursing Theories

The basic purpose of nursing theory is to surpass nursing practice through the establishment of positive measures that aim at influencing patients' quality of health and life. Furthermore, nursing theories are established to describe and define nursing care, control nursing practice, and provide a foundation for nursing decision-making. The developments of nursing theories have led to the recognition of nursing as an academic, professional, and research discipline.

In Academic Discipline

Nursing programs are developed through the incorporation of organized concepts, models, and frameworks of nursing theories. The theories contribute majorly to the development of the whole nursing curriculum.

Nursing theories ensure unique language, course descriptions, clinical performance protocols, and course objectives. Theories play integral roles in informing the learners of what the nursing profession entails and its significance as an academic discipline.  

Consequently, nursing theories are vital in discussing professional fundamental implications and the enhancement of professions' status.

In Professional Practice

The clinical practice involves the generation of knowledge and research questions that are based on nursing theories. The primary contribution of the clinical setting includes questioning, thinking, and reflecting about the roles of the nurses.

Since nursing practice and nurses are subordinate to traditions and institutional forces, the suggestion of any framework that helps nurses to question, think and reflect on what they do is invaluable service provision.

In Research

Theory development is the basic component in the research process that applies the theoretical frameworks to define research study through the provision of guidance and perspective.

Moreover, theory can be applied to guide the process of research by testing and establishing the intended phenomena. Improvement of the nursing profession's potential to achieve societal responsibilities and duties, demands to be a cyclical, reciprocal connection with research, theory, and practice.

This aspect is critical in linking the perception gap between practice and theory and embracing the theory-guided practice.

What are Nursing Metaparadigms?

The nursing metaparadigm s is a group of ideas or theories that provide the nursing structure and explain the functionality of nursing as a discipline.  Nursing paradigms consist of the four primary concepts that describe the patient, patient's well-being and health, patient's environment, and nursing roles. In simple terms, the major concepts include person, health, environment, and nursing. The concepts are interrelated and critical to nursing theories. Let us look at each of the nursing paradigms.


Person as a component of the nursing paradigm refers to the human being or the client that receives nursing care and can comprise of patients, individuals, families, communities, and groups


Health can be defined as the standards of well-being or wellness that are felt by the client. Health has different meanings depending on the patient, healthcare provider, and the clinical setting.


The environment is the external or internal surrounding that influences the client. Environment involves both negative and positive conditions that have an impact on the physical environment, patient, families, friends, and setting where the individuals receive health care.


Nursing is a fundamental component of the nursing paradigm, nurses’ characteristics, actions, and attributes are important in care provision incorporation with the clients.

Several definitions of nursing have been developed by many nursing scholars; however, the scholars have not come to terms in producing the exact definition. Nursing theories are embedded in the ultimate role of improving patient care.

The four concepts of the nursing metaparadigm are defined differently and used frequently throughout different types of nursing theories. Moreover, examination of the definition of nurse theorists suggests that each definition differs in nursing experience, orientation, and is affected by different factors influenced by the theorist's view.

The person forms the central focus; nevertheless, the way theorist explains nursing metaparadigm ensures a unique view on a certain theory. Generally, various theorists define the nursing paradigm in their individual views that clearly express their different views. 

Components of Nursing Theories

The consideration of theory is based on its constituents such as phenomenon, concepts, relational statements, assumptions, and definitions. Additionally, the explanation of the relationship between the components of the theory justifies the validity of the theory.


This is a term used to describe a response or idea about an occurrence, process, or situation. The phenomenon can be permanent or temporary depending on its intensity and duration. Nursing theories are curtailed in the description of the nursing phenomena.


Nursing theories are described by interrelated concepts. Concepts label or describe the phenomenon. Concepts are phrases and words that define, establish and identify boundaries and structures of generated ideas of a certain phenomenon. Concepts can be classified into two groups: abstract or concrete. Abstract concepts are mentally created and are exclusive of a specific place or time. On the other hand, concrete concepts are experienced directly and are linked with a particular place or time.

Relational Statements

Rational statements refer to the chains that connect concepts. They describe the bond between two or multiple concepts.


Definitions are used to explain the meaning of the concepts of a certain theory. Definitions can be grouped into two categories: operational and theoretical. Theoretical definitions describe a certain concept with theorists' understanding. Operational definitions explain the measuring levels of concepts.


Assumptions are tolerable facts that are based on beliefs and values and are considered true. These statements discuss the purpose, theory structure, features of concepts, relationships, and definitions

Classification of Nursing Theories

Nursing theories are categorized in different ways. Nursing theories are classified based on their goal orientation, abstraction, or function

Goal orientation

Theories can be grouped depending on their goals. This classification method defined theories into prescriptive and descriptive.

Prescriptive Theories

Prescriptive theories control practice change, predict consequences, and describe nursing interventions. They also consist of propositions that allude to transformations. Prescriptive theories are also known for their anticipation of nursing interventions outcomes.

Descriptive Theories

Descriptive theories are the initial level of developing theory. They identify and describe the occurrence of phenomena components and properties. Descriptive theories do not create or transform situations because they are not action-oriented. Descriptive theories are divided into two explanatory theories and facto-isolating theory.

Explanatory theory

As the name suggests, the explanatory theories explain and describe characteristics of relationships that exist between several phenomena.

Factor-Isolating Theory

The nursing theories are described as factor-isolating theory is they explain the dimensions and features of phenomena. They are also addressed as labeling or category-formulating theory.


Abstraction classifies theories into three ultimate categories: practice level theory, middle-range theory, and grand theory.

Practice-Level Theories

Practice–level theories are nursing theories that are situation-specific and consist of narrow scope and aim at specific patients at a certain duration. They provide frameworks that address nursing interventions and propose the results or impacts of nursing practice.

Theories that are developed at the practice level have a more direct influence on nursing practice than abstract theories. Practice-level theories are connected with concepts derived from grand theories and middle-range theories.

Middle-Range Theories

Middle-range theories have limited scope and the present propositions and concepts are at the abstraction lower levels.  They explain the nursing-specific phenomenon.

Several middle-range theories are obtained from grand theories, however, their conception from nursing practice, research, and other discipline theories is suggested their flexibility.

This level of theories can be used at the expense of grand theory because it is easy to test, unlike grand theories.

Grand theories

Grand theories are described as abstract, broad and comp-ex thus demands further study for simplification. These theories do not explain particular nursing interventions but instead ensure general nursing ideas and frameworks.

The grand nursing theory defines the components of the nursing paradigm such as person-environment, health, and nursing

Notably, the theorists of grand nursing create their work regarding their time and individual experiences one of the factors that explain why their theories are endowed with numerous variations.

Other Forms of Nursing Theory Classification

Theory classification

Alligood Classification Format

Raile Alligood in her book, Nursing Theorists and Their Work groped nursing theory based on her studies. The groups include nursing –conceptual models, nursing philosophy, middle-range theories, and grand theories and nursing theories

Meleis Classification Format

In his book Theoretical Nursing: Development and Progress, Afaf Ibrahim Meleis grouped fundamental nurse models and theories into the following areas: outcome theories, interaction theories, and needs theories. The categories described by Meleis indicates the primary theories philosophical underpinnings.

List of nursing Theorists who impacted Nursing education/practice

This section provides the names of some of the renowned nursing theorists who contributed immensely to the development of nursing knowledge and the specific theories they pioneered.

List of nursing theories for Nursing Students and Nurses

Nursing Theories

 As discussed earlier, nursing theories play different roles. Many nursing theories are developed by theorists. In this section, we are going to look at some of the fundamental theories and their application in nursing.

Environmental Theory

Interpersonal Relations Theory

Nursing Need Theory

21 Nursing Problems Theory

Three Cs theories (The Core, Care, and Cure)

Nursing process theory

Philosophy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring

Theory of Bureaucratic Caring

Theory of Carative Caring

Theory of Human Beings

Self-Care Theory

Humanistic Nursing Theory

Transitions Theory

Human Becoming Theory

Symphonological Bioethical Theory

Self-Transcendence Theory

Theory of Illness Trajectory

Theory of Chronic Sorrow

Theory of Comfort

Theory of Caring

Peaceful End-of-Life Theory

Postpartum Depression Theory

Culture Care Theory of diversity and universality

The Theory of Nursing as Caring: A Model for Transforming Practice

Behavioral System Model

Adaptation Model

A Model for Nursing Based on a Model of Living

Child Health Assessment Model


In the modern healthcare context, the nursing theories help nurses to adopt different strategies and approaches when providing optimal care to their patients. It is therefore imperative to understand the meaning, classification, and application of nursing theories. Understanding the nursing theorists is also critical.

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