There was a time when nursing was a two year college diploma that mainly concentrated on science and mathematics related to health care. However, nursing has changed over the last ten years or so. More specifically, curriculum requirements have changed as nurses are being required to fulfill more and more responsibilities. For instance, you can rarely speak to doctors once you are admitted into a hospital. The theoretical aspects of the nursing programs are included into the nursing curriculum to prepare a student for higher level positions that involve administrative duties. These positions involve writing and communicating information rather than bed side care of the patients. The academic world includes theoretical components in all areas; nursing is no different from other programs. Theory aims to present different perspectives on a particular topic rather than giving a student a concrete answer to a question.
Nursing theory and concepts have a fundamental purpose in nursing practice. When we take care of patients, we perform actions or interventions with specific outcomes or goals. A theory is what provides the foundation for those interventions as well as outcomes. It acts as a guide or roadmap to what we need to do to help patients. An example is Dorthea Orem's Self-Care Deficit theory. This theory states that patient need to be as self-sufficient or autonomous as their current state of illness will allow. Now, put this in the context of an intervention. A nurse can provide a washcloth and a tub of water with soap for the patient to wash themselves. The patient may only be able to wash their arms and hands. The nurse may have to do the rest, but the patient can be as autonomous as possible. That is where theory meets practice and why it is important to understand how theory is the basis for nursing practice.
As a former educator for practical nursing students I can say that theory is important. It does not matter the degree you are obtaining, certificate, licensed or registered nurses need theory. It is important to understand nursing theory as it gives you a foundation for your nursing career. If you look up the meaning of theory you will find that it means an explanation of ideas. It gives you founding principles in which to guide your nursing practice and helps you to understand the past. Without our founding theorist our nursing practice would have no foundation in which to guide us in practice.