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Nursing Education - the Importance of Critical Thinking

Sep 8, 2008
In the nursing profession, more now than ever, the ability to think critically is essential. The responsibilities of a Registered Nurse have increased over the years. In correlation with this increase in responsibility comes the additional increase in educational prerequisites and core requisites required to achieve a degree in Nursing. The ANA (American Nursing Association) Standards has set forth the framework necessary for critical thinking in the application of the "nursing process". The nursing process is the tool by which all nurses can equally become proficient at critical thinking. The nursing process contains the following criteria:

Assessment
Diagnosis
Planning
Implementation
Evaluation

It is in the application of each of these processes that the nurse may become proficient at critical thinking. It is important to look at the components that describe critical thinking in nursing, The table below lists components that define the critical thinking process. There is much more that goes into critical thinking than what is listed in the table. The table is a rough draft of the process.

CRITICAL THINKING COMPONENTS

Entails purposeful, informed, outcome focused thinking, that requires careful identification of specific problems and other physiological and psychological factors that affect the clients position on the health and wellness continuum.

The process is driven by the client, the client's family and other health team members who are also collaborating in ensuring essential client care.

Specific educational knowledge base and level of experience in applying that knowledge in client care. (Nursing School to graduate nurse to experienced nurse) As the level of experience of the nurse increases so will the scientific knowledge base that the nurse applies.

Proficiency in the application of the institutions standards, policies and procedures.

Application of the humanistic standards of caring in conjunction with the nursing process, to holistically treat the clients response to an actual or perceived illness.

Constant evaluation and re-evaluation of the nursing process to determine the clients level of wellness

Nurses learn critical thinking via application with experience. Experience is the best teacher. But it is equally important to know that the process is being applied correctly. Many institutions will ensure that this pathway is followed by enlisting new nurses in a eight to ten week orientation program. During this time the new nurse will learn about the polices and procedures of that institution and what type of documentation is used for charting purposes. Also, the new nurse will have an experienced mentor who they will follow and who will evaluate their performance as well.

Documentation is an essential part of the critical thinking process for the nurse. Every institution places emphasis on documentation. It is said, "that if it is not documented, then it was not done". Since the nursing process is a scientific process. In scientific research, all things are documented. In this documentation, researches can look back to see if the results were due to interventions and whether or not the interventions were successful or have to be altered. The documentation process helps the nurse accomplish the same goals. Many times procedures are used that have unproven efficacy.

In it is this framework of critical thinking and documentation that such procedures can be either continued or eliminated, depending on the efficacy of the research. In other words, does the procedure actually improve, help or otherwise jeopardize the client's health. An example of the critical thinking process and scientific reasoning is in the efficacy of taking a rectal temperature of new born infants. Currently, this procedure is still widely accepted. However the scientific approach is to ask the following, is the procedure safe, is it necessary, and can an axillary temp be used in place of the rectal temp? In answering these questions, the nurse can better evaluate whether the efficacy of taking a rectal temp on a infant should be continued.

This is just one example of how the critical thinking process is used within the nursing profession. The scientific approach using critical thinking helps the nurse develop evidence based practice. It is through "evidence based practice" that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO) rates the performance of hospitals. Further research is still continuing in delineating the intricacies of the nursing process and the integration of critical thinking. All health care professionals are encouraged to pursue this type of research in their practice to ensure the quality of client care and enhance the validity of their profession.
About the Author
Pass the Nursing Entrance Test the first time with our guide at Nurses Learning Center. Written by a Professor of Education for nurses, the guide has over 600 pages with details answers to every question.
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