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The Importance of Caring Theory in Modern Nursing Practice

From electronic medical records to smart beds and socially intelligent robots, technological advances are continually transforming the nursing profession. Healthcare technologies are automating tasks, increasing efficiencies and improving patient safety. But there is a critical part of nursing practice that technology cannot replace: the caring relationship that is the essence of the nursing profession.

Nurses earning their Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) take a course titled Caring Theory in Professional Nursing Practice. Nurses explore the complex concepts of caring as the foundation of professional nursing and “person-centered care.”

What Is Caring Theory in Nursing?

For 20 straight years, nurses have taken the top spot in Gallup’s Honesty and Ethics poll for 2021. As the most trusted profession, nursing clearly has a major impact on the patient experience. As part of an evidence-based approach to healthcare, nurses promote trust in nurse-patient relationships through the practice of caring.

Caring has been at the heart of the nursing profession since the time of Florence Nightingale. Nightingale’s well-known Environment Theory emphasizes the importance of cleanliness, clean air and water, quiet and light in the healing process. Her commitment to improving conditions and outcomes for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War is a lesson in compassionate care.

Dr. Jean Watson’s Theory of Human Caring also takes a holistic approach to nursing. Watson describes caring theory as “a framework that embraces and intersects with art, science, humanities, spirituality, and new dimensions of mind-body-spirit medicine and nursing evolving openly as central to human phenomena of nursing practice.”

The Theory of Human Caring complements the “cure orientation of medicine” through a set of caritas processes, which begin with practicing “loving-kindness, compassion and equanimity with self/others.” Self-care is also an ethical obligation in nursing, as stated in the Code of Ethics for Nurses. Therefore, nurses who care for themselves can better provide compassionate care for their patients.

How Does Caring Theory Connect to Current Issues in Nursing?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought greater attention to some of the most persistent issues in healthcare, including health disparities. Improving access to culturally competent care is essential in achieving health equity.

Caring theory offers an ethical foundation for nursing that centers on creating authentic caring relationships and healing environments for every patient. This holistic, person-centered approach emphasizes cultural competence, which the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) defines as “the ability to effectively work within the client’s cultural context.”

Cultural competence involves respectful and responsive consideration of factors such as race, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, religion, values, beliefs, traditions, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and immigration status.

Writing for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Jennifer McGee-Avila describes going beyond cultural competence through the practice of cultural humility. Cultural humility “requires you to step outside of yourself and be open to other people’s identities, in a way that acknowledges their authority over their own experiences.” Similarly, Watson’s caring theory emphasizes patient autonomy in the caring environment.

Post-visit patient satisfaction surveys ask questions such as: How often did we explain things in a way you could understand? During your visit, how often were you treated with respect? How likely are you to refer the provider to family and friends?

Positive patient experiences translate to better clinical outcomes, not to mention financially. Nurse care plays a vital role in the patient experience. The University of Illinois Chicago’s RN to BSN online program equips graduates to meet evolving patient needs and foster a culture of caring that promotes healing relationships.

Learn more about the University of Illinois Chicago’s online RN to BSN program.

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