Nursing Theorists and Theories for your Nursing Assignments


Nursing Theorists and Theories for your Nursing Assignments

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.

  • nursing theories assist in the recognition of components of nursing practice through the nursing description
  • Through nursing definition, nursing theories enable nurses to understand their roles and purposes in the healthcare environment.
  • Nursing theories act as scientific reasons and rationale of nursing interventions that are ideal inappropriate responses to nursing care conditions.
  • Nursing theories ensure knowledge development through the provision of comprehensive guidance and direction in practice, research, and education.
  • Nursing theories are vital in defining, predicting, and demonstrating several nursing phenomena.
  • Nursing theories help nurses to reflect on the questions and assumptions of nursing values which is significant in nursing definition and elevation of nursing knowledge.
  • Nursing theory is also recognized as one of the critical components in safeguarding professional boundaries and limits.
  • The provision of nurses’ identity as one of the roles of nursing theories enables the managers, healthcare professionals, and patients to acquire knowledge and be aware of the ideal contribution of nurses in healthcare service delivery.
  • Nursing theories are crucial in the provision of nursing practice foundation, knowledge generation, and determination of the future scope of nursing as a profession.


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

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

  • Nursing- conceptual models. These nursing theories are linked to several nursing pioneers and are comprehensive in nature.
  • Nursing philosophy. These are an abstract set of theories that are critical in explaining nursing phenomena through the implication of reasoning, logical presentation, and analysis. Nightingale, Benner, Watson, and Ray are some of the theorists whose works are categorized in this group.
  • Middle-range theories. Alligood described the middle-range theory as short and addresses a particular nursing practice through adherence to the derivative model or theory. Some of the middle-range theories are attributed to theorists such as Reed, Barker, Mercer, and Mishel.
  • Grand-nursing theories. These are theories that are the derivatives of conceptual models, other grand theories, and nursing philosophy. Alligood attributed the grand-nursing theory to the works of Orem, Rogers, King, and Levine in this category.


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.

  • Outcome theories. These are set of theories that target the nurse as the major patient care provider. The nurse directs and controls the patient by applying the knowledge of human behavioral and physiological systems. This group consists of the nursing theories of Levine, Johnson, and Roy.
  • Interaction Theories. Interaction theories are based on the development and sustenance of relationships between the patients and the nurses. These theories highlight the nursing affects the patients and the influence of interactions with people, situations, and the environment. Several theories of Travelbee, Orlando, and King fall under this group.
  • Needs-Based theories. The needs-based theory was developed by a section of nurses who developed conceptual order to define nursing care. Needs-based theories are based on assisting individuals to achieve their mental and physical needs. Theories of Abdella, Henderson, and Orem fall into this category. However, the needs-based theory has been criticized for depending extremely on the health medical model and placement of the patient in an overt position.


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.

  • Hildegard E. Peplau. developed the interpersonal relations theory
  • Florence Nightingale. pioneered environmental theory and modern nursing
  • Faye Glenn Abdalla. created the 21 nursing-problems theory
  • Lydia E. Hall. Developed the three Cs theory of Lydia Hall which is based on cure, care, and core.
  • Ernestine Wiedenbach. Pioneered the Helping Art of Clinical Nursing is a conceptual model.
  • Joyce Travelbee. developed Human to Human Relationship Model
  • Evelyn Adam. developed theories and models on the nursing concept
  • Nancy Roper, Winifred Logan, and Alison Tierney. They developed A Model for Nursing Based on a Model of Living.
  • Jean Watson. Created Transpersonal Theory and Philosophy.
  • Ida Jean Orlando. Founder of Nursing process theory
  • Marilyn Anne Ray. pioneered Bureaucratic Caring Theory
  • Kari Martinsen. founder of caring philosophy
  • Patricia Benner. Pioneered Clinical Wisdom, Caring, And Nursing Practice Ethics.
  • Katie Eriksson. developed Creative Caring Theory
  • Martha E. Rogers. founder of Human Beings Theory
  • Myra Estrin Levin. Developed the Nursing Conservation Model.
  • Cornelia M. Ruland and Shirley M. Moore. pioneered The Theory of Peaceful End-Of-Life
  • Cheryl Tatano Beck. developed Theory of Postpartum Depression
  • Kristen M. Swanson. the founder of Caring Theory
  • Katharine Kolcaba. Developed the Comfort Theory.
  • George Gaskill Eakes. Mary Lermann Burke and Margaret A. Hainsworth. The pioneers of Chronic Sorrow Theory.
  • Phil Barker. established Barkers Tidal Model of Mental Health Recovery that is applied in mental- health nursing
  • Carolyn L. Weiner and Marylyn J. Dodd. created the Illness Trajectory Theory
  • H. Mishel. Developed the theory of Illness Uncertainty
  • Pamela G. Reed. associated with Self –Transcendence Theory
  • Ramona T. Mercer. Founder of maternal Role Attainment –Becoming a Mother Theory.
  • Hellen C. Erickson, Evelyn M. Tomlin, and Mary Ann P. Swain. Founders of Modeling and Role Modeling.
  • Gladys L. Husted and James H. Husted. Developed theory of Symphonological Bioethical.
  • Rosemarie Rizzo Parse. Created Human Becoming Theory.
  • Madeleine M. Leininger is the developer of the Culture Care Theory of Diversity and Universality.
  • Margaret A. Newman. Created Health as Expanding Consciousness Theory.
  • Afaf Ibrahim Meleis. Developed Transitions Theory.
  • Nola J. Pender. Created Health Promotion Model.
  • Dorothy E. Johnson. The founder of Behavioral System Model.
  • Anne Boykin and Savina O. Schoenhofer. Established Nursing as Caring Theory: Model for Transforming Practice.
  • Betty Neumann. is well known with Neuman’s System Model
  • Imogene M. King. The pioneer of Conceptual System and Middle-Range Theory of Goal Attainment.
  • Sister Callista Roy. She developed Adaptation Model
  • Dorothea E. the pioneer of Self-Care Theory


List of nursing theories for Nursing Students and Nurses

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

  • was developed by Florence Nightingale
  • This theory describes nursing as the activity of using the patient environment to aid in the patient recovery process.
  • This theory states that nursing should effectively utilize light, air, cleanliness, diet administration, and warmth to ensure patient care.
  • The environmental theory considers five environmental conditions such as pure water, fresh air, cleanliness, efficient drainage, and direct sunlight to emphasize effective patient care delivery.


Interpersonal Relations Theory

  • Developed by Hildegard E. Peplau in 1952.
  • Peleus theory of interpersonal relations suggests that an interpersonal therapeutic interaction process between the patient and the educated nurse relies on response, need, and recognition
  • This theory assists nurses to create many therapeutic interventions that are essential in the clinical environment.
  • The theory posits four phases including orientation, identification, exploitation, and resolution.

Nursing Need Theory

  • Was pioneered by Virginia Henderson
  • This theory emphasizes the significance of elevating the independence of patients to increase their hospital healing process
  • Nursing need theory elaborates on the fundamental human needs and the roles of the nurses in meeting the needs.
  • This theory encourages nurses to implement a physician’s therapeutic care plan, while the patient care should be improved by the nurses based on their knowledge and the need of the patient at a particular time.


21 Nursing Problems Theory

  • Developed by Faye Glenn Abdellah
  • This theory states that nursing depends on science and art that creates attitudes, technical skills, and intellectual competencies of the nurse into feelings and potentials of assisting the patient and people to cope with health requirements.
  • This theory changed the nursing focus to patient-centered from the initial disease-centered and to include the elderly and families in nursing care.
  • This theory was developed with the aim of care provision in a hospital setting; however, it can be used in nursing and community health as well.


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

  • pioneered by Lydia E. Hall
  • In her definition of nursing, Lydia emphasized nursing as a process of engaging in care, cure, and core to ensure patient care. she elaborated that care is the sole function of the nurse while cure and core are shared among the health team
  • The main reason for care is to ensure interpersonal relationships with the patient or client to promote core development.
  • The basic role of the nurse is to define the care circle through the provision of patient physical care. The core is addressed by the provision of nursing care to the patient. The cure involves medication administrations and treatment by the nurse.


Nursing process theory

  • was created by Ida Jean Orlando
  • This theory proposes that patients have their interpretations and meanings of situations; hence nurses must validate their opinions and suggestions with the patients before conclusions.
  • this theory permits nurses to develop comprehensive nursing care plans that can be implemented in all patient conditions
  • According to Orlando, people change to patients only when they need help that t they could not get on their own triggered by physical limitations. inability to communicate, and negative environmental reactions
  • This theory proposes that nurses have a role to identify and meet immediate patient needs.


Philosophy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring

  • pioneered by Jean Watson
  • This theory is grounded on health promotion, illness prevention, health restoration, and patient caring.
  • this theory is based majorly on how nurses implement patient care and how to care plan progresses to promote illness prevention, health restoration, and health promotion
  • According to this theory, patient caring is an integral part of nursing practice and enhances better health compared to simple medical applications.


Theory of Bureaucratic Caring

  • developed by Jean Marylyn Ann Ray
  • this theory suggests that infection control, care quality, medication error reductions, and patient safety in a complicated bureaucratic healthcare system cannot be undertaken without comprehension and knowledge of the organization. Therefore, spiritual-ethical caring, economic and political systems right, compassions of professionals and patients are some of the factors that affect the complex organizations
  • This theory challenges the nursing participants to think beyond their normal reference frame and to view the world based on its complexity.
  • The theory of bureaucratic caring presents a different approach of healthcare organization view and how the nursing phenomena are connected as parts and wholes in the complex systems.


Theory of Carative Caring

  • Pioneered by Katie Eriksson.
  • This theory proposes that people should apply Caritas in a caring patient in suffering and health. Carative caring means the expression of love to the patient.
  • The ultimate objective of carative caring theory is to serve health and life and reduce suffering through love manifestation.
  • This theory has been valued in Nordic countries and has been fundamental in clinical practice, education, and research.


Theory of Human Beings

  • Developed by Martha E. Rogers.
  • Rogers in her theory describes nursing as a science and an art that is humanitarian and humanistic.
  • This theory is grounded on the science of Unitary Human Beings which consists of two dimensions: nursing art which emphasizes the application of nursing creatively to improve the status of a patient; and nursing science which entails specific knowledge to the nursing discipline.
  • The theory of human beings suggests that patients cannot be excluded from their environment when solving treatment and health issues.


Self-Care Theory

  • Created by Dorothea E. Orem.
  • Orem in her theory explained nursing as an act of helping others in the management and provision of self-care to improve or sustain human functioning effectively at home standards.
  • This theory determines an individual’s potential to undertake self-care.
  • Self-care theory consists of three connected theories: nursing systems theory, theory of self-care, and the self-care deficit theory.


Humanistic Nursing Theory

  • Focuses on the human aspect of nursing
  • Developed by Loretta Zderad and Josephine Paterson in the 1960s
  • It posits that for nurses to effectively focus on the overall human experience when caring for their patients, they need to treat the patients as more than a statistic.
  • Nurses need to connect with the patient at an interpersonal level for the best patient-centered care.
  • It recommends engaging in dialogue (person to person, person to object, and group dialogues) to blend personal and emotional perspectives with the patient’s receptive perspective to develop a holistic understanding of the medical situation at hand.
  • It champions for phenomenological nursing that helps nurses describe their experiences within the humanistic dialogue in five phases.
  • Nurses must also express their personal and emotional viewpoints through community.


Transitions Theory

  • Developed by Afaf Ibrahim Meleis
  • This theory commenced with the identification of the experiences that are encountered by people dealing with health and well-being changes and the capacity of the people to support individual care plans.
  • The transitions addressed in this theory are organizational, situational, and developmental.
  • Transitional theory appreciates the ideal roles of nurses in aiding patients through illness and transitions of life.
  • this theory also focuses on helping nurses to conduct community, families, and patient health transitions


Human Becoming Theory

  • Pioneered by Rosemarie Rizzo Parse
  • This theory defines nursing based on the principles of science and performing and emphasizes that nursing practice involves relationships.
  • this theory explains that a person cannot be separated from the environment, hence nursing applies abstract knowledge to assist people
  • The human becoming theory revolves around three themes such as transcendence, meaning, and rhythmicity.

Symphonological Bioethical Theory

  • Developed by Gladys L. Hausted and James H. Husted.
  • This theory discusses nursing in terms of agreements. As the name suggests symphonology was derived from thee the Greek word symphonia meaning agreement.
  • this theory states that nursing cannot take place without the agreement between the patient and the nurse hence advises the nurse to take no actions in a non-interactive situation
  • Human interaction is one of the major aspects of this theory and is driven by essential non-aggression agreement and human rights among rational individuals.


Self-Transcendence Theory

  • Pioneered by Pamela G. Reed.
  • Reed in her theory of transcendence focuses on the fluctuation of perception boundaries that pushes the individual beyond constricted and immediate world and self-views.
  • this theory is based on three concepts namely self –transcendence, well-being, and vulnerability
  • Self-transcendence theory gives details about human development nature with the health situation based on nursing care.