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So, you want to be a nurse? A brief introduction to nursing
So, you want to be a nurse? A brief introduction to nursing

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6.1 Nursing theory study

You will take a look at each of the five subjects covered in nursing theory study in turn next, and consider how each links to nursing practice.

Anatomy and physiology

Anatomy and physiology is the study of not only the structure of the human body but also the functions. It includes an understanding of the disorders associated with each function and structure of the body.



The respiratory system


Respiration including gaseous exchange.

Health condition:


So, this might seem a logical theory to underpin nursing practice, but our wellbeing is also linked to how our minds work so let us have a look at psychology.


Psychology is a science that, like other sciences, can be studied outside of nursing. Elements of psychology theory underpin nursing practice. For example, understanding behaviour including health behaviour, emotional responses, communication, self-awareness and decision making.


Psychological theory:

Health behaviour.

Nursing intervention:

Supporting smoking cessation.

Understanding the reasons why people make the choices they do in relation to their health, and the psychological theories behind this, can inform nurses when offering support with behaviours such as smoking cessation.


Sociology is also a science often studied as a separate topic, but when applied to nursing it can help nurses to understand many aspects of health. For example, in society, in relation to family dynamics, culture.


Sociological theory:

Labelling theory is an example whereby the label attached to someone then shapes their behaviour and how people around them see them. Labels in nursing might include, sick, disabled or mentally ill.

Nursing intervention:

Offering non-judgemental/anti discriminatory care.

Understanding the nature of labelling and how these labels might change interaction and/or expectations of those who have this label attached can support nursing interventions.

Nursing theory

There are specific theories of nursing that underpin nursing practice. These often relate to models of care and frameworks for the delivery of care.



Orem’s self-care theory. This theory identifies aspects of self-care and the importance of the patient having control.

Nursing intervention:

Supporting the patient to manage their own health and wellbeing.

Politics and social policy theory

Nurses work in a political landscape; health is a key aspect of all societies political and social policy agenda. Understanding the context in which nurses work is important for all nurses.


Politics and social theory:

An example might be the development of a new policy for dementia care. This policy will not only shape the development of services for people with dementia, but will also offer guidance for those working in those services.

Nursing intervention:

The nurse working with the person with dementia and their family understands what services might be available now and in the future.

In the next activity, you will look at how a student nurse can go on to apply this theory in a practical situation.

Activity 9 Using classroom learning in practice

In the following case study, Harry is a student nurse in the final year of his nursing course and is visiting a family with his mentor as part of his community placement. As you read, think about some of the theory Harry might have been studying at university to help him to understand his patient's needs.

Harry is visiting Mrs Kowalczyk, an 83-year-old woman who lives with her daughter and their family, a husband and two teenage children. Mrs Kowalczyk recently had a fall and fractured her hip. She has returned from hospital following a hip replacement and is physically healing well. Her daughter tells the nurses that she is worried that her mother is still unsteady when walking and she may need some adaptations to the house so that is it safe. She is happy her mother is living with them, however, has noticed her mother has become very forgetful and has started to speak in her native language, Polish, when she is upset. Mrs Kowalczyk’s daughter also tells them that her children are struggling to understand why their grandmother can’t remember their names and is so confused, and they have started to spend more time round at friends’ houses.

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Harry will have been studying a range of subjects on his university course including anatomy and physiology, sociology and psychology. He will have also studied health and safety and will understand how nurses may need to help patients and their families to access different services.

In this scenario, Harry will be using his anatomy and physiology knowledge to understand what has happened to Mrs Kowalczyk’s hip, the surgery and how this is healing. He will also have studied sociology and will be aware of cultural diversity and family dynamics. In addition, from studying psychology, he will have an understanding of health behaviours and the impact of illness on a family not just the patient.

Harry will have studied nursing assessments and dementia and will be aware that the qualified nurse may suggest an assessment to check for dementia. He knows also that the nurse may refer to other professionals, such as the physiotherapist and occupational therapist for assessments on mobility and skills within the home.

These are just a few examples of how Harry will be using his knowledge of the theory to inform his practice as a nurse and understand the decisions he will be making when he is a qualified nurse.

What are your reflections on how Harry has used his knowledge of theories?