Application of Borrowed Theories in Nursing Practice

As a practice profession, nursing often encounters phenomenon that is not unique to nursing research papers. Therefore, theories in nursing can be adopted from other disciplines.

A significant number of borrowed theories used as frameworks in nursing are informed by theoretical work from other disciplines such as physiology (e.g. theory of pain perception), psychology (e.g. social-cognitive theory) or sociology (e.g. sick-role theory).

Borrowed nursing theory is the knowledge developed by other disciplines and is applied to nursing questions and research problems. Nursing research and practice has been using frameworks and theories from other disciplines.

These theoretical frameworks have enhanced the development of nursing theory. Furthermore, the value of borrowed theories in nursing have allowed the discipline to add, expand, interpret, and validate them within the nursing perspective. Knowledge attained from borrowed theories is valuable if the fit and relevance to nursing practice and research are clarified. 

Nursing practice and research borrows theoretical assumptions, concepts, and instruments from other disciplines including sociology, psychology, anthropology, and education.

Borrowed theories in nursing can either be: (i) theories developed in other disciplines but are used to guide nursing practice and research (such as the Bandura’s theory of Self-Efficacy, Health Belief Model, and Theory of Planned Behavior).

(ii) Theories developed for other disciplines by are used by nurses to develop nursing theories such as Newman’s theory of Health was informed by Bentov’s theory of life. 

Application of the Borrowed Theories

The use of borrowed theories in nursing practice is well-documented in literature. For instance, the theory of successful aging is recommended to assist nurses to provide comprehensive care and understand the intricacies of caring for older patients with chronic renal illness.

The Bandura’s self-efficacy construct was also used as a framework for an intervention focused reducing smoking-related illness among older adults who smoke. The construct combined with the Health Benefit Model informed the different caring alternatives recommended for this population.

Another example of application of non-nursing theories in nursing practice include the use of Health Belief Model to guide the development and implementation of a health education program for school children. Topics include dental care, seat belt safety, sleep, and head lice awareness.

The aim of the education program was to deliver health information that would improve the children’s understanding of the perceived benefits of health promoting behaviors and their individual risk for health threats.

Apart from the Health Benefit Model (HBM) constructs, the program also demonstrated the application of other concepts, models, and theories inkling epidemiology (prevention), biomedical concepts (principles of infection), and learning theories.

Education theories often inform theories based on behavioral learning. The education domain provides the constructs, theories, and concepts that can be borrowed and developed further to establish how education can be incorporated into nursing.

Nurse use borrowed nurses from the education discipline and use them to develop theories specific to nursing practice and research.

Example of Borrowed Theory Being Conceptualized in Nursing Research 

A research was done to propose how the theory of planned behavior (TPB), one of the leading theories of health behavior can be extended to explicitly include the parental influence on adolescent behavior.

While TPB is well-known for its use and predictive validity in comprehending numerous health behaviors, the model pertains to the individual level while relegating other factors into the global category of ‘external influences.’

However, when addressing issues such as sexual risk behavior in adolescents, omitting parental influences restricts the use of TPB. Therefore,  in this research, TPB is expanded to include a significant influence from within the adolescent’s most proximal setting: parents.

The expanded model is supported by significant evidence. The expanded TPB model provides the conceptual foundation for family-based prevention programs to minimize HIV-associated risk behaviors among adolescents.

The issue of borrowing or sharing theory from other disciplines has been raised in the discussion of nursing theory since the 1970’s.

The discourse over borrowed theory has been centered on the perceived need of having unique nursing theories to guide practices and research. The primary argument is that only theories unique to nursing to guide the actions of the discipline. 

Opponents of using borrowed theory in nursing argue that nursing knowledge should not be tainted by adopting theories from education, sociology, psychology, and physiology.

Others believe that since they are ‘borrowed’ the theories ought to be returned to the respective disciplines and in essence, they are not nursing theories. 

Proponents of borrowed nursing theories believe that knowledge belongs to the scientific community and the society at large, and it is not the property of disciplines and individuals.

Since knowledge is neither private property nor confined to an individual discipline, it can be shared or borrowed by other disciplines. Furthermore, borrowed theories do not diminish nursing scholarship but rather improve it.

Advocates of borrowed nursing theories also note that borrowing theories is not isolated to nursing since other applied sciences also adopt theories from other disciplines.

For instance, the general systems theory is used in engineering, sociology, biology, and nursing. Besides, different theories of stress and adaptation are valuable to physicians, psychologists, and nurses. 

Ideally, all nursing theories adopt theories and concepts shared with other disciplines to guide practice, research, and development. However, the adoption of these theories and concepts from other discipline does not convert them into nursing theories or concepts.

Therefore, it is important for practitioners, researchers, and theorists to use the borrowed theories appropriately. Much emphasis should be place on synthesizing and redefining the theories and concepts according to a nursing perspective. 

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