Nursing Theorists and Theories in Nursing Practice

Written by Brandon L.
August 21, 202313 min read

Nursing practice is a science that depends on a body of knowledge generated through observations, experimentation, and experience, otherwise known as nursing theories.

They are relevant for nursing practice and will most likely be tested in major nursing examinations. You will also probably write research papers, concept analysis papers, and essays on nursing theories.

Each nursing theory organizes concepts, frameworks, and philosophy that help to identify, define, and restrict what nurses do, why they do it, and how to do it.

In this ultimate guide, we will walk you through these theories. You will find information on nursing theories, including the concepts, levels, and a list of the most common nursing theories.

And although we only scratch the surface of what there is to learn about the theories, you can conduct comprehensive research on the respective theories based on the list we have provided. Finally, we wish you success in your nursing degree program; we bet that by the end of it, you will have mastered and expanded your knowledge of nursing theories.

Before anything else, let's get solid on the basics of nursing theories.

What are Nursing Theories? And what makes nursing theories?

Nursing theories refer to an organized body of knowledge that defines what nursing means, nursing practice, and the purpose of nursing practice. It is a collection of models, concepts, purposes, and frameworks that guide nursing practice at a specific and concrete level. The theories are the foundation of nursing practice

The theories help define nursing as a noble, unique, and essential discipline that is distinguishable from other fields such as pharmacy, medicine, chemistry, etc.

Nursing theories also help guide and define nursing care and provide a foundation for clinical decision-making. Since nursing is a science, it often borrows some of the theories from public health and customizes them to fit the context of nursing practice, which is why we have borrowed nursing theories.

Nursing theories contain concepts, definitions, propositions, relational statements, and assumptions to explain a phenomenon of interest. A phenomenon refers to an occurrence, event, situation, or process. The concepts are labels to the phenomenon -phrases that define, identify, and establish the structure for ideas generated by a phenomenon. Propositions are used to describe the relationships between concepts. Concepts can either be abstract - mentally structured or concrete -  developed through experience. Nursing theories have either theoretical (relating to the theoretical perspective of the concept) or operational definitions (stating how the concepts are measured).

The relational statements define the relationships between the concepts in theory. On the other hand, assumptions are accepted truths based on values and beliefs that explain the nature of a nursing theory's relationships, structure, purpose, definitions, and concepts. You can symbolically represent a theory through words, diagrams, or mathematical models, which become your conceptual model.

Importance/Purpose of Nursing Theories

Across different professions, theories offer the foundation of practice. Nursing being a science, its entire practice is based on nursing theories. Nursing theories act as frameworks that shape the scope of nursing care and practice. It offers nurses guidelines when educating themselves, researching, and practicing care for their patients and themselves. There are many reasons why nursing theories are important:

Nursing theory, to a broader scope, helps knit together the systems, people, and settings in healthcare to influence nursing practice, capacity, and efficiency. The theories help nurses to care for themselves and their patients, interpret and address situations, and sustain nursing practice. Since nursing theories are ubiquitous, they also help standardize nursing practice, making it possible for nurses to operate anywhere in the world.

The Nursing Metaparadigm

A metaparadigm is a set of ideas that offer a structure for how healthcare discipline functions.

Metaparadigms comprise concepts that address the primary issues in a discipline, which helps map out the parameter and focus of the domain in question.

The metaparadigm of nursing comprises four main concepts tied to nursing theories: person, health, environment, and nursing. These 4 concepts form a foundation for nursing practice. They interrelate or interact to ensure nurses deliver holistic care. As such, nurses can view patients as holistic and independent persons. They also serve to address the health and environments of the patients and the responsibilities/duties of nurses.

While person, health, and environment relate to the patients, the nursing concept centers on nurses. These concepts define the scope of the context and content of being a nurse. When applied to a nursing process, these concepts allow for a complete approach to patient care.


the person in a nursing metaparadigm focuses on the multiple needs of those under the care of nurses. This includes the patients, their families, and their community.

The nurses can look at the patient's emotional, social, and spiritual aspects and consider them as people with physical needs.

With the holistic view, nurses can care for the patients by emphasizing the need for patients to express their emotions, seek spiritual support, and get social support from family and friends.

The basis of this metaparadigm is that people can be empowered to manage their health when they have positive personal connections.


The health concept relates to the patient's level of wellness when receiving care. It embodies the multiple factors that go into the patient's well-being, including the spiritual, emotional, social, physical, and intellectual components and how they can be integrated to ensure maximum health outcomes.

It considers the quality of healthcare across the lifespan, as health deteriorates, and past health issues can influence different stages and present problems later.

It extends beyond physical wellness and includes the patient's emotional, mental, spiritual, and social health. It also looks at the genetic composition. Nurses should consider all the factors to ensure that they select an efficient treatment plan for the patient.

Health might have different meanings considering patients, clinical settings, and healthcare providers.


The concept of the environment relates to the surroundings that affect the patient and influence their health and wellness. The premise of this concept is that altering the environment can improve health. It includes the positive and negative conditions or situations that influence the patient and the physical environment that affects families, friends, and close companions.


The nursing component of the metaparadigm addresses what the nurses do and what they know. It focuses on their character, skills, actions, and attributes on behalf of or in cooperation with the patient. Nursing can be defined in many ways depending on the nursing scholar. It focuses on providing safe, efficient, effective, timely, accessible, purposeful, and reasonable patient care for the best outcomes.

When analyzing a nursing theory, you will realize that some will define some components of the nursing metaparadigm while leaving others irrelevant to the theory. Likewise, you will find some theories encompassing some concepts while others have them all.

Classification (Types/Levels) of Nursing Theories

Nursing theories are logical, generalizable, and consistent with everyday observations. They provide a basis for nurses to test hypotheses and guide the nursing practice. Given their importance, nursing theories can be classified into three levels depending on abstraction: grand theory, middle-range theory, and practice-level (nursing practice) theory.

Let's explore each level in-depth.

Grand Nursing Theories

In a simple definition, grand theories are abstract, broad, and complex concepts that offer a general framework for nursing ideas relating to components such as people, environment, and health. They are primarily based on the experiences of the nursing theorists that postulate or develop them.

The grand nursing theories have the broadest scope for addressing diverse concepts and propositions that nurses are likely to encounter in their nursing practice. These theories are centered around conceptual frameworks and models for defining nursing practice in different situations and care settings and the ways of examining phenomena based on these points of view.

The grand nursing theories describe abstract nursing concepts that provide a framework for understanding nursing behavior and do not have too many details.

Examples of grand nursing theories include:

Florence Nightingale and Jean Watson are the two most popular grand theorists who have contributed to nursing theory by developing theories used in nursing practice, research, education, and administration.

Middle-Range Nursing Theories

The middle-range theories are more specific in focus and offer more concrete links between grand nursing theories and nursing practice. Notably, the concepts of the middle-range theories in nursing tend to be less abstract and more verifiable through testing or experimentation. In addition, these theories often describe, expound on, explain, and predict certain phenomena related to clinical practice.

Middle-range nursing theories focus on the concept and not all of the nursing, mainly including the concept's name within its title.

While the grand theories are broader and provide an overall framework for structuring ideas, the middle-range theories address narrowly defined phenomena and can be used to suggest an intervention.

Some of the most common middle-range theories include

Practice-Level Theories

The nursing practice theories focus on specific concepts relating to a defined patient population.

These theories are patient-centered and are often used by bedside nurses in their daily practice. They are scenario or situation-specific theories that focus on a specific patient group at a given time.

They directly influence nursing practice compared to the grand and middle-range theories. In most cases, these theories are interrelated with concepts from the middle-range and the grand theories.

Other Relevant Types of theories in nursing (Borrowed Theories)

The nursing discipline also uses theories other than the three primary levels of nursing theories we explored above. Mostly, these are referred to as borrowed theories because they are composed of philosophies and ideas borrowed from other fields and infused into nursing practice.

Ethical theories are used in nursing to address the dilemmas that arise during practice, which require decision-making. These theories explore the integrity and moral obligations of nurses. In addition, they address the use of technology, change in society, healthcare policies, and nursing care environments. The ethical principles in nursing include virtue ethics, principlism, deontology, and utilitarianism. Other ethical concepts that are even integrated into the nursing code of ethics provisions include justice, beneficence, autonomy, accountability, veracity, fidelity, and non-maleficence.

There are also change theories that focus on changing the nursing environment. These theories consider the drivers and resistance factors of change and how to implement change step-by-step. A typical example is Kurt Lewin's change theory of nursing. Other change theories that can be applied in nursing include:

List of important Nursing Theorists and Theories

If you are assigned a nursing essay or research paper to apply nursing theories, you can choose one below, research it further and develop the paper. Make sure to introduce the theorist, the historical context of the theory, the definition of concepts of metaparadigm or theoretical assertions, major assumptions, relationship with other theories, empirical evidence, and application of the specific theory in nursing practice, leadership/management/administration, research, or education. Whence critiquing a theory, do so based on clarity, simplicity, generality, empirical precision, and deliverable consequences.

  1. Environment theory (Florence Nightingale)
  2. Interpersonal theory (Hildegard Peplau)
  3. Afaf Ibrahim Meleis � Transitions theory
  4. Anne Boykin and Savina o. Schoenhofer � The theory of nursing as caring: a model for transforming practice
  5. Betty Neuman - System model
  6. Butterfield Upstream Model for Population Health (BUMP Health) by Patricia G. Butterfield
  7. Dorothea Orem - Self-care deficit nursing theory (SCNDT)
  8. Dorothy Johnson - Behavioral systems model
  9. Ernestine Wiedenbach - The helping act of clinical nursing
  10. Fay Abdella - Twenty-One Nursing Problems
  11. Faye Glenn Abdellah - 21 Nursing problems Theory
  12. Ida Jean Orlando - Nursing Process theory
  13. Critical caring pedagogy by Peggy L. Chinn
  14. Imogene King - Goal Attainment theory
  15. Peace and Power by Peggy L Chinn
  16. Moving Beyond Dwelling in Suffering by Susan DeSanto-Madeya
  17. Theory of Integral Nursing by Barbara Dossey
  18. Lisa Campbell - Leveraging Resources model
  19. Quality-Caring Model- by Joanne R. Duffy
  20. Conceptual Model of Nursing (Nursology) and Population Health by Carol Hall Ellenbecker
  21. Jean Watson - Philosophy and transpersonal caring model
  22. Kari Martinsen - Philosophy of caring
  23. Kathryn E. Barnard - Child health assessment model
  24. Katie Eriksson - Theory of Carative Caring
  25. Madeleine Leininger -Transcultural nursing theory
  26. Marilyn Anne Ray - The theory of bureaucratic caring
  27. Martha Rogers -Unitary Human beings
  28. Mayra Estrine Levine - Conservation model for nursing
  29. Winifred Logan - Roper-Logan-Tierney Model of Nursing Based on Activities of Living
  30. From Novice to Expert (Patricia Benner)
  31. The Primacy of Caring by Patricia Berner
  32. Sister Calista Roy - Adaptation theory
  33. Virginia Henderson - Need Theory
  34. Lida Nikfarid - Human as Embodied Spirit theory
  35. The Core, Care, and Cure (Lydia E. Hall)
  36. Carolyn L. Wiener and Marylin J. Dodd - Theory of illness trajectory
  37. Cheryl Tatano Beck - Postpartum depression theory
  38. Cornelia M. Ruland and Shirley M. Moore - Peaceful end-of-life theory
  39. Ernestine Wiedenbach - The helping art of clinical nursing
  40. Georgene Gaskill Eakes, Mary Lermann Burke, and Margaret A. Hainsworth - The theory of chronic sorrow
  41. Susan Luck - Theory of Integrative Nurse Coaching
  42. Gladys L. Husted and James H. Husted - Symphonological bioethical theory
  43. Helen C. Erickson, Evelyn M. Tomlin, and Mary Ann P. Swain - Modeling and role-modeling theory
  44. Theory of Cultural Humility by Cynthia Foronda
  45. Theory of Emancipatory Compassion for Nursing by Jessica M. Gill
  46. Situation-Specific Theory by Eun-OK Im
  47. Donna J. Perry - Transcendent Pluralism
  48. Beck Cheryl Tatano - Theory of Traumatic Childbirth: The Ever-Widening Ripple Effect (Middle Range)
  49. Rural Nursing Theory by Helen J. Lee
  50. Elizabeth R. Lenz - Theory of unpleasant symptoms
  51. Theory of Self-Care of Chronic Illness by Anna Stromberg
  52. Conceptual Model of Nursing and Health Policy by Gail Russel
  53. Joyce Travelbee - Human-to-human relationship model
  54. Katherine Kolcaba - Theory of comfort
  55. Barret Elizabeth - Theory of Power as Knowing Participation in Change
  56. Kristen M. Swanson - Theory of caring
  57. Margaret A. Newman - Health as Expanding Consciousness
  58. Merle H. Mishel - Uncertainty of illness theory
  59. Nola J. Pender - Health Promotion Model
  60. Pamela G. Reed - Self-transcendence theory
  61. Phil Barker - Barker's tidal model of mental health recovery
  62. Ramona T. Mercer - Maternal role attainment theory
  63. Rosemarie Rizzo Parse - Human becoming theory
  64. Loretta Zderad - Humanistic Nursing
  65. The Primacy of caring - Judith Wrubel

It is wise to state that nurse theorists such as Jean Watson, Rosemary Parse, and Martha Rogers are considered new worldview theorists. In addition, Myra Levine, Dorothea Orem, and Sister Callista Roy are referred to as contemporary nursing theorists. Finally, Florence Nightingale, Virginia Henderson, Hildegard Peplau, and Joyce Travelbee are considered early nursing theorists. This information can come in handy in your revision.

Related Reading: How to write a great nursing diagnosis.

Nursing Theory Topics to Consider

You can go through the list of nursing theory topic ideas below to develop a unique one on which you can write an entire essay or research paper. Then, if you are stuck, we can help you write a custom essay or research paper with original ideas, an organized presentation, and scholarly-based examples.

  1. The importance of integrating nursing theory into practice
  2. The Role of grand nursing theories in the nursing discipline
  3. Application of the comfort theory of Nursing in nursing education
  4. Contribution of Patricia Benner as a nursing theorist
  5. Nursing Theory and Plan of Care
  6. Application of Aristotle's ethical theory in nursing practice
  7. Using Kanter's and Neumann's theories to address nursing retention
  8. The Roy adaptation model and nursing practice
  9. Application of Soren Kierkegaard's Ethical Theory to Nursing
  10. Kant's deontology theory in nursing
  11. Solving nursing problems through nursing theory
  12. The impact of the American Idol Nursing Theory contest at the University of West Georgia
  13. How nursing leaders can use system theory
  14. Application of change theory in the inpatient nursing
  15. Role modeling theories and integral nursing
  16. Application of middle-range theories in nursing
  17. Use of psychological theories in Nursing
  18. Understanding borrowed theories in nursing
  19. Mother Roger's nursing theory
  20. How nursing theory affects nursing research
  21. Application of nursing theory in end-of-life Care
  22. The five essential components of Florence Nightingale's theory of nursing
  23. Relationship between nursing Theory and quality improvement
  24. Nursing theory and music therapy
  25. Using grand theories to solve ethical dilemmas
  26. Madeleine Hubble's nursing theory of cultural care diversity and Universality
  27. Applying nursing theories to forensic nursing
  28. The ultimate goal of nursing theory
  29. The contemporary nursing theorists and the relevance of their theories in current nursing practice
  30. Levels of theoretical thinking in nursing theory
  31. Differences and similarities Between Hildegard Peplau's and Jean Watson's Nursing Theory
  32. Are nursing theories the foundation of the nursing profession?
  33. Comparative Analysis of Watson's and Orem's Nursing Theory
  34. Benefits of incorporating nursing theories in hospital policies
  35. Do patients contribute to nursing theories?
  36. The historical development of nursing theories
  37. Application of the health belief model in healthcare planning

Nursing theories can help you understand the patient's ability and write a  medical plan and your nursing philosophy paper.  

Final Remarks

Knowing the nursing theory to use in your paper is one thing; you can easily do that from the examples of nursing theories we shared above. However, integrating the concepts and applying the nursing theory to a research topic can be difficult for many.

Related Reading:

NurseMyGrade team realizes that most nursing students either end up in remediation programs or spend more time and money on their education due to failure to deliver high-quality essays and research papers. We will do respective articles with nursing theories summaries. 

For that sole reason, despite striving to be a top nursing student resource, we also have a team of expert nurse writers to help you write nursing papers. They can help you with nursing theory papers and case studies.

Place an order, pay for it, and get a well-researched, edited, organized, and plagiarism-free nursing paper with your preferred nursing theory. The papers are in APA or Harvard format; you will also have free access to the reference list. Place that order today.

References (Links to External Websites)

  1. Nursing theory Development
  2. 5 Nursing Theories for Nurses Educators
  3. Nursing Theories and Models
  4. Nursing Theories
  5. Common Nursing- Nursing theories
  6. What is a Nursing theory? Key concepts for DNPs
  7. Understanding nursing theories
  8. Overview of Nursing Theories
  9. Intro to nursing theories
  10. Nursing theorists and theories

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