Theory guides nurses in order to validate and further legitimatize the discipline by providing structure and substance to the practice. Further, theory is a way to organize knowledge within the discipline in order to address a variety of issues, provide a common language and unify ideas. The role of the nurse has not been easily defined due to theorists within the nursing discipline being unable to agree on the exact nature of nursing (Antrobus, 1993). Some theorists focus on the role in relation to caring (King, 1981) or on therapy (Kitson, 1992). Others see it as being more disease-centered than person-centered (Bortoff & D’Cruz, 1984).

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Using models of nursing as the basis for practice and for knowledge development is often criticized for not providing a definitive description of the role of nursing (Robinson, 1990; Kenny, 1993). Theorists further assert that a unified theory to describe nursing is not realistic and that using a variety of models allows for multiple views or perspectives in which nursing can be described (Castledine, 1994).

In the traditional sense, the role of the nurse is linked with the construct of caring. Orem (1991) posits, however, that the role of a nurse is to return the patient to self-care rather than on a reciprocal caring relationship between nurse and patient. Kitson (1992) furthers this position by suggesting that nurses should be committed to caring for the patient as long as the patient needs it, possess the knowledge and skills to meet these needs in an integral manner. McFarlane (1977) and Benner (1985) agree that nursing will only prove meaningful if the patient-nurse relationship is based on the dignity and autonomy of the patient.

In summary, there is no definitive definition of the nurse’s role, but rather it is a complex and multifaceted concept. Some theorists view it as competency in diagnostic treatments whereas others view the role as a professional caregiver.

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