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Understand How Theory and Research Influence Evidence-Based Practice With a DNP

Nursing professionals must have a solid foundation in evidence-based practice (EBP) to provide quality care to their patients. Nursing professionals can grow their careers and expand their skill sets through a Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) online program. Graduates of an advanced DNP program will be equipped to use proven methods and data in various settings.

For all DNP-prepared nurses, EBP is the backbone of their practice. Their role is to incorporate theory and research findings into the design and evaluation of innovative care modules, cost-effective strategies and health policies. DNP-prepared nurses will understand how theory and research work together to improve patient care.  

Three Cornerstones of the Nursing Profession

According to a Pulsus article, the three cornerstones of the nursing profession are practice, research and theory. All three components are cyclical, creating a triangle for a solid nursing base. The following explanations expand on the three cornerstones’ relation to one another:

  • Clinical practice creates research questions and theoretical knowledge.
  • Theoretical frameworks and research data make up evidence-based clinical practice.
  • Research data can challenge or form theories confirming or improving current practices.

All three components work closely together to improve nursing practice and healthcare systems.

Nurse leaders are responsible for solidifying the three cornerstones of the nursing profession. DNP-prepared nurses provide leadership for EBP changes by translating scientific and theoretical knowledge into practice. Armed with advanced knowledge, a DNP-prepared nurse learns to translate scientific research and theoretical knowledge into practice to help drive positive outcomes.

Relationship Between Practice, Research and Theory

Theory cannot be present without research, and vice versa. As the Pulsus article notes, “In any discipline, science is the result of the relationship between the process of inquiry (research) and the product of knowledge (theory).” More research generates more knowledge and produces theory. This new knowledge and theory then help guide future research. 

Effective nursing practice relies on research findings, EBP and a theoretical framework. However, a common perception is that nursing research and theory are separate from nursing practice. This view is incorrect, as nursing practice must include research and theory to ensure the best care possible for patients. Research can validate existing theories (knowledge) or create new ones. Brian Conner, Ph.D., RN, CNE, states in American Nurse that research studies “involve systematic, scientific inquiry to answer specific research questions or test hypotheses using disciplined, rigorous methods.”

Bridging the Gap to Improve Patient Outcomes

Nurse leaders must continue to bridge the gaps between research, theory and care. The process of adopting research findings into everyday practice can take years. Many “classic studies indicate that it takes 17–20 years to get clinical innovations into practice; moreover, fewer than 50% of clinical innovations ever make it into general usage.”

Through a collaborative approach, the Ph.D. and DNP pair can speed up this process from “bench to bedside.” The Ph.D. nurse explores answers to build the nursing body of knowledge, while the DNP nurse creates strategies to apply that knowledge in practice. Their collaborative efforts can help better align theory, practice and available research evidence.

Although DNP nurses often partner with Ph.D. nurses, they can be heavily involved in every step of the research process. They can influence the study design, conduct the study and collect and analyze data — often with the assistance of a Ph.D. colleague. In the clinical area, they can cultivate interest in the research process for nurses and act as a mentor for their research in their areas of study.

Most importantly, the DNP nurse implements credible research by Ph.D. scholars and researchers. They identify and address barriers to facilitate EBP interventions in patient care and the foundation of their organization. If there is insufficient clinical evidence to support nursing practice, the DNP nurse shares this gap with the Ph.D. nurse to explore optimal strategies to fill that gap.

How a DNP Can Help Prepare You for Tomorrow’s Healthcare

The complex, ever-evolving healthcare system requires influential nurses to provide leadership for evidence-based practice. A DNP degree can prepare professionals to improve their nursing practice, make evidence-based organizational changes and shape healthcare policies and outcomes. It can also prepare nurses to make an impact on a broader scale regarding health policies, starting or improving community initiatives and creating new care knowledge through research.

The online Post-Master’s DNP program from Northern Kentucky University (NKU) can equip students to improve their practice through evidence-based principles. Courses such as Theory and Research for EBP will teach students to identify, critique, analyze, synthesize, apply and evaluate evidence to support clinical and organizational change. In addition, graduates will be able to incorporate research and theory into policy, innovation and practice.

Learn more about NKU’s online Post-Master’s DNP program.

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