Educational theories for improved healthcare outcomes


Nurse leaders and educators are essential for maintaining a high standard of healthcare. Teaching methods and theories that can be applied to caring for a wide variety of patients are obviously important.

There are some basic theories in particular that have played a pivotal role in modern medicine and improving patient outcomes. In the modern age, some of these ideas may seem like common sense, but there was a time when they created major changes in medicine to save countless lives.

All healthcare professionals should consistently work towards improving patient outcomes. Here are some of the ideas and methods that can make all the difference in how fast a patient recovers from an illness or injury.

A clean patient environment

Florence Nightingale pioneered the theory that patients would do much better if they were provided with as clean and sanitary conditions as possible. This theory came about during her time serving as a nurse during the Crimean War. Here she saw a lot of soldiers dying from secondary diseases related to the unsanitary practices of field medicine and the conditions they were forced to live in.

By making a few changes, she was able to significantly reduce the mortality rate. Her theory was based on the following.

Clean bedding, clothing, and good hygienic practices

It is imperative that everything stays as clean as possible at a medical facility. Patients must have their bedding changed regularly and anytime it becomes soiled or dirty. Access to clean water, soap, bandages, etc., is all critical too. Helping patients with their hygiene is important when they are unable to do it themselves.

Sufficient quality food and beverages

Patients must have adequate nutrition to heal and overcome injuries and illnesses. Good nutrition helps maintain the immune system and assists in rebuilding lost blood supplies. Patients who do not receive adequate nutrition have much higher mortality rates and longer illnesses and recovery times than those who do. Patients who cannot feed themselves should be provided with assistance that ranges from spoon feeding to feeding tubes for severely ill patients.

Fresh air and sunlight

Good fresh air circulation and sunlight whenever possible are helpful unless a treatment or condition prohibits direct sunlight. Medical care units should have clean and fresh air. In modern times, air filters and circulation systems make this a lot easier to achieve, regardless of weather conditions.

Henderson’s nursing need theory

This theory is based on the belief that a nurse’s role is to care for the patient while gradually encouraging them to be independent. This means as a patient feels better and starts to heal, they are allowed to and encouraged to do more themselves. Henderson’s model helps people go from being totally dependent on others to regaining their independence partially or fully. The gradual approach makes a recovery that seems overwhelming to the patient more realistic, as small steps and milestones add up to major results.

This theory is useful when nurses are working towards the goal of sending a patient home to continue their recovery. A lot of patients tend to recover better at home because they are more at ease and comfortable there. At home, there is also less risk of catching other illnesses compared to being in a medical facility with many other patients. No matter how clean and careful medical staff are, a hospital has a lot of people receiving treatment, so it is impossible to totally eliminate the risk of secondary infections or illness.

Getting patients home sooner also reduces the cost of healthcare and frees up nurses to take care of other patients. With a shortage of nurses, anything that can be done to reduce patient loads without compromising care is welcome.

Maternal role theory

The bond between mother and child is very important. Initiating this bond and fostering it is important from the point of pregnancy and beyond. Mercer’s Theory of Maternal Role Attainment was created by maternity nurse Ramona Mercer. The theory is based on goals that involve teaching and supporting the mother throughout pregnancy and birth. Helping mothers find ways to adapt their life to suit their new role as mother and ensure their newborn gets the attention and care they need to thrive is another main goal.

This model is groundbreaking because it sheds light on the importance of caring for the mother and not just the newborn. Mercer’s theory linked the importance of a healthy and happy mother to the health and wellbeing of the child from infancy to adulthood.

A further component of this theory includes maternity and newborn care nurses encouraging skin-to-skin time with infants and breastfeeding support. They help mothers concentrate on bonding with their children and recovering from childbirth.

Goal attainment

This theory maintains that the patient and nurse need to communicate and work together towards common goals. A clear and open line of communication helps patients and nurses set realistic goals and work together to achieve them while celebrating milestones for the long-term care of the patient. This theory forms the basis for compassionate care, helping patients and their families feel empowered and valued.

Creating a care plan and setting goals together also reduce the odds of patients setting unrealistic goals and losing morale when they fail to achieve them. With the guidance of a nurse, they can better understand what is realistic and what is not.

Efficient communication

Sometimes, it comes down to communication. Nurse leaders must have the absolute best written and oral communication skills. While some may assume the written word is dwindling, a lot of communication and collaboration continues to happen in written form. In healthcare, much communication is done via text message, email, or workplace apps like Slack or AirTable.

Good written communication skills enable nurses to take better notes and keep exceptional records. Oral communication skills allow nurse leaders to give better instructions to staff and communicate clearly with patients and concerned family members.

Public speaking skills also serve a nurse leader well. In this role, there are plenty of large meetings and workshops where they may be expected to speak to a group. Seminars, conferences, and job fairs are all locations where they may be expected to represent the medical organization or individual facility. Delivering talks and lectures at seminars is not uncommon for a nursing leader.

Ethics and professionalism

Nurse leaders must teach the next generation of nurses to have a robust set of personal and professional ethics to guide them. While all nurses must take an oath to do no harm and act in good faith to help others, it is important to learn educational theories too. Nurse leaders can use these theories to help improve healthcare outcomes so that each nurse examines and understands the ethics that guide them in all aspects of life.

Exerting professionalism and integrity is critical to a long career in healthcare. This may sound easy, but during stressful times, it may be harder for nurses to maintain professionalism while performing.

Time management and prioritization

Even highly organized people sometimes need a little help with time management and prioritizing tasks during a busy workday. Nursing educators offer students advice on managing tasks and avoiding extra stress. Understanding how to best prioritize tasks when managing patient loads is a critical skill in medicine. Nursing leaders must also help students develop strategies and mechanisms for organization that work well for their personality and job style.

Owning mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, and it is important that even nurses understand this and strive to avoid them. By doing this, most serious mistakes can be avoided. Nursing educators need to teach their students to acknowledge mistakes when they realize they have made one. Hiding mistakes does not end well and can cause significant harm in some cases.

Acting in a professional manner can involve bringing mistakes or misunderstandings to the attention of a manager. It is far better for a nurse to admit to an error than have someone else bring it to their superior’s attention.

If the nurse can fix the mistake themselves, then that is exactly what they should do. At the very least, they should consider their options and talk to a supervisor about the error. They should always ask how to avoid making a similar mistake in the future. A good nurse learns from mistakes and takes action to prevent them in the future.

Helping others and the importance of teamwork

The goal of a medical facility is to help others – not just patients. If a nurse has taken care of their priorities and required tasks or can create time to assist struggling colleagues, they should do so. This creates a supportive culture where nurses help each other when needed.

Being helpful also shows supervisors which nurses take responsibility and are good at realizing when something needs to be done without being told.

Working well on a team is an essential skill in healthcare, especially during times of high demand. Nurses who prove themselves valuable team members may find opportunities to manage projects or take on further responsibilities that can lead to promotions.

Be a good listener

Patients and their families, as well as co-workers, appreciate a nurse being a good listener. Listening shows that they care, and it can be a valuable tool when attempting to form a meaningful connection with patients and their families.

Sometimes, listening well can allow the nurse to pick up important information that can impact a patient’s care and recovery, while other times, people just need to feel supported and valued.

Maintaining a good mental outlook and level of morale can help patients heal faster and get back to their homes and loved ones. Providing emotional support and resources is very important for the long-term outlooks of any patient.

Becoming a strong nursing leader and educator

To become a strong nurse leader and educator, there are numerous qualities, skills, and qualifications that are required.

A love of teaching others

Teaching is a huge part of the role, so nurses need to really enjoy it and take pride in offering the best experience possible. They will be teaching students from many different backgrounds, so they will have many opportunities to learn from them as well.

Nursing educators teach nursing students at different stages of their careers. Some may be taking a class to become a certified nurse aid, while others will obtain a bachelor’s, master’s, or beyond.

Plenty of clinical experience

The best nursing educators have spent significant time working in a clinical setting. This real-world experience allows them to teach others and be good mentors. Some educators may continue to work in a clinical setting, at least part-time, while being a teacher.

High level of personal organization

Teaching courses and keeping track of numerous students can be challenging, no matter how well-organized a nurse may be. While computers and electronic organization in the modern age can assist, nurse educators still need to hold themselves to a high standard when it comes to staying organized. Students will be looking up to their nurse leader and educator, using their organizational abilities as an example for their own habits and behaviors.


Even those without formal degrees as educators may find themselves in a position to act as a mentor or preceptors to nursing students completing their clinical placements. A preceptor is the main mentor and teacher for nursing students, who shadow and learn from what they do on daily. In return, the preceptor has an educated and increasingly skilled assistant throughout the course of the workday.

Volunteering to be a preceptor is a great way for nurses to decide if they truly enjoy being a nurse educator and whether it is something they wish to pursue further. While preceptors are rarely paid, they gain experience that can be added to a resume to help with future positions.

How to become a nursing educator

Now is a great time to become a nursing educator. This goal can be attained quickly, even for those who are only just considering entering the world of healthcare.

Obtain an RN license and gain experience

Nurses need to gain experience in order to teach others well. Many nursing educators work for at least a few years as an Registered Nurse (RN) and make an effort to take on teaching or mentoring roles whenever possible during this time.

Work towards a master’s degree in nursing education

Even if a nurse earned a Master’s degree to become an RN, earning an additional Master’s degree while continuing to work as an RN is highly recommended for those who want to work as a nurse educator full-time or qualify for positions at colleges and universities. Cleveland State University’s Masters in Nurse Education online degree can be completed part-time in just two years remotely, with clinical placement hours.

Consider educational environments

Nursing educators work in many different types of locations. For example, hospitals and other medical facilities may keep nursing educators on hand to work as preceptors in a clinical setting. These nurse educators perform all the tasks expected of a nurse in a specific department while instructing and acting as a mentor to nursing students.

Colleges and universities employ nursing educators to teach college-level courses online and in person. Educators may also teach courses such as first aid, CPR, and other basic courses for a variety of professionals or individuals who want to learn medical skills.

Health departments and social service groups also hire nursing educators to help teach the community about major health concerns such as pregnancy prevention, weight and nutrition management, and more.


Nursing educators play a strong role in the current and future medical world. Educators have a lot of responsibility ensuring that healthcare workers have the skills and knowledge they need to maintain a high level of patient care under very challenging conditions.

Now is a great time for interested individuals to pursue a career as a nursing educator. They can help train another generation of healthcare workers to meet the challenges of caring for an aging population, providing primary and preventative care for more people than ever before.

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