The distinction between theory and practice has been delineated in nearly every occupational evolution, including nursing, since philosophers began theorizing. Often hotly debated, this distinction has fervent supporters and detractors on both sides. Theorists are often accused of not understanding how their theories are employed operationally because they often reside in academia rather than in practice. Practitioners, in health care and elsewhere, are often though by theorists to operate by rote and habit rather than by critical thinking.

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Specific to nursing, theory does have a role in clinical practice. This role is one of research-based qualitative and quantitative studies that can help improve patient outcomes. Additionally, ethnographic research and the theories that follow are especially useful in that they stem from nurses and other health care stockholders who live and breathe patient care. Their research, observations, and recommendations are highly useful in clinical practice.

Nursing theory could be used to improve or evaluate clinical practice by providing relevant studies on the care of postoperative care, specifically bowel management. Many patients are prescribed opioids or codeines postoperatively, both of which can interfere with postoperative elimination. Combined with the anesthetic used during lengthy surgical procedures, postoperative patients not only have the post-surgical pain, they can develop discomfort from constipation. Research and theoretical offerings on how to eliminate or reduce this discomfort would be extremely useful. An example of this is a study conducted by Goenne et al where the effects of codeine on transit times in the gastric system, small bowel, and colon were studied in an effort to find alternatives for pain relief. The researchers presented information on alvimopan as an alternative. This type of specific research and the associated theory is useful in nursing practice. It’s applicability to direct patient care makes it easier to provide a successful outcome for the patient.

  • Gonenne, J., Camilleri, M., Ferber, I., Burton, D., Baxter, K., Keyashian, K.,…Zinsmeister, A.R. (2005). Effect of alvimopam and codeine on gastrointestinal transit: A randomized controlled study. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 3(8), 784-791. doi: