Borrowed Theories

Nursing uses many theories from other professions (Too bad not many use our theories. We need better PR!). Nieswiadomy calls them theories from other disciplines. I call them borrowed. I consider that healthy and then nursing incorporates our holistic approach. So this week we will examine those theories and how we put our "spin" on the theory.

Content What I Need To Do

How has nursing borrowed other theories? A few theories are presented with an example. There are many others!

Social Sciences:

  • Exchange theory is based on economic theories. Used to explain hierarchical relationships such as physician/ nurse interactions.
  • Systems theory is based on the human trait of wanting things to be in balance. This theory has been used extensively in organizational management.
  • Symbolic interactionism: has been used to examine relationships in families and in the acquiring new roles such as the maternal role.
  • Feminist theory is based on the inequalities in gender and has been used extensively in nursing related to reproductive topics such as contraception and female genital mutilation.
  • Critical social theory is closely related to feminist theory but the inequality is based on social and economic inequalities. It has been used in nursing issues related to access to care.

Behavioral Sciences:

  • Developmental theory is based on the behavioral development of humans across the life span and has been used to examine the impact of illness on development. Erikson's theory was one of the more well-known developmental theories.
  • Cognitive development (Piaget) is based on humans' abilities to think concretely or abstractly and has been used to examine adolescent decision-making.
  • The Health Belief Model was developed as a Public Heath model to understand why people chose different health behaviors. Originally it was used to understand why people chose to be immunized or not.
  • The Theory of Planned Behavior and Reasoned Action is based on economic theory. It was originally developed to understand people's intentions to buy something like a car. It is used in nursing to examine people's intentions to implement a heath behavior such as adolescents choosing a method of contraception. I used this theory to examine pregnant adolescents' intentions to continue in school after they had their babies. (It worked!)
  • Human need theory (Maslow's hierarchy of needs) is based on humans' abilities to make choices based on an interaction between their strengths and needs. This theory has been used in nursing when examining the choices made by patients who have chronic illnesses such as Hepatitis C or AIDS.

Biomedical Sciences:

  • Disease causation has developed as scientists have gained more understanding of microorganisms. Think Florence Nightingale and the need for open windows!
  • Web of Causation is useful in understanding that diseases have multiple causes including genetics and health choices. Nursing has used the three levels of prevention (primary, secondary, tertiary) related to decreasing the impact of chronic illnesses on individuals and families as well as when examining the cascading effect of a disease on the physiological functioning as in DIC.
  • Stress and adaptation is the basis of the "flight or fight" response. This theory may be more appropriate for men than women as it turns out women secrete more oxytocin when they are stressed which makes them want to bond together for support.
  • Pain management such as the Gate-Control Pain theory which has been used extensively for different modalities of pain management for women in labor.


Wilkonson & Van Leuen: page 149-152, Nieswiadomy Chapter 7 on page 115-117 lists theories from other disciplines.

Also go into a search engine such as Google and put in the name of the theory and you will be able to find information about the theory. For example: Health Belief Model and The Theory of Planned Behavior


Activity 1: Borrowed Theory Questions: Short answers:

  1. Is this theory a grand, middle or practice theory? Why?
  2. Who is a "big name" related to this theory's development?
  3. How would this theory interrelate the four domains of nursing: patient, nurse, health and environment?
  4. Locate one nursing research article using this theory. Briefly describe how the theory was used. Cite it and tell us how you found it in case others want to use the information for another project. If you use CINAHL try putting in the theory as the keyword and use the Tx All Text in the search field. That way seemed to work the best for me.


Everybody benefits!