Critical thinking has increasingly become a vital part of nursing practice in the world. Unlike in the past when nurses were required to implement orders issued by doctors, today’s nurses have been empowered to make decisions related to their functions as healthcare providers (Benner, Ronda & Molly, 2006). As Benner, Ronda and Molly (2006) observe, nurses should be allowed to make decisions because they spend more time with patients than doctors. However, analysis of the process of critical thinking reveals that it is still not possible for nurses to think critically.
Definition of Critical Thinking
According to American Philosophical Association, critical thinking is the intentional and self-controlled judgment that makes use of one’s cognitive abilities (Simmons et al., 2003). Critical thinkers are people who think about how they think (Simmons et al. 2003). While they strive to attain the highest standards, critical thinkers are concerned about the reasonableness of each step they take and are willing to take responsibility for any outcomes (Simmons et al., 2003). Critical thinking, therefore, entails striving to get maximum outcomes while remaining wary of the impediments and possible dangers involved.
In nursing, critical thinking involves the influence of both knowledge and experience (Yang & Jung, 2004). Yang & Jung (2004) asserts that several strategies such as reflective thinking are employed to determine and assess prevailing problems and identify available opportunities to address such problems. A critical thinking nurse synthesizes available information and deploys appropriate interventions within the limits of acceptable nursing practice. Such nurses are normally confident, creative, flexible, inquisitive, intellectual, intuitive, open-minded, patient, and reflective. Yang & Jung (2004) also claims that a critical thinking nurse is able to analyze available information and apply appropriate standards. A nurse should be in a position to look for missing information, logically reason, discriminate what is wrong and predict the outcomes of certain situations (Yang & Jung, 2004). This means that information is vital in critical thinking. In this regard, Yang & Jung (2004) observes that nurses are not sufficiently trained to handle and interpret complex information. Nurses are still trained to strictly work under the direction of doctors and, as a result, are not confident enough to think critically and make sound healthcare decisions.
Purpose of Critical Thinking in Nursing
Nurses experience new cases almost every day (Bucknall, 2003). In such cases, according to Bucknall (2003), old methods may not guarantee success. Consequently, a nurse has to think and determine the most appropriate solution depending on the issue at hand. Some of the cases may come in form of a dilemma (Bucknall, 2003). Under such circumstances, a critical thinking nurse will assess the prevailing conditions and determine the most optimal solution (Bucknall, 2003). In the absence of critical thinking, such solutions may be out of reach.
Therefore, in critical thinking, nurses should be guided by the need to apply the most appropriate interventions that are predicted to yield the best results. Bucknall (2003) asserts that nurses should know the kind of patients to benefit from certain intervention plans and the best timing for such interventions. Nurses should also know when and how to communicate with patients and their family members regarding a continuing treatment process (Bucknall, 2003). To make all these decisions, one needs to have some autonomy. However, nurses operate under very strict legal frameworks; always being confronted by ethical issues. Under such circumstances, it is hard for people to think critically because they are afraid of what may follow should things go wrong. Therefore, ethical issues and legal frameworks should be designed in a manner that allows nurses to weigh the issues at hand and determine the most appropriate interventions.
Critical thinking requires sufficient information and a supportive legal environment. Lack of proper training to interpret complex information and strict legal backgrounds have undermined nurses’ abilities to think critically. Proper training should be availed and a friendly legal environment created to allow nurses to determine optimal interventions as they try to save lives.
Benner, P. Ronda G. H. & Molly S. (2006). Clinical Reasoning, Decision making, and Action: Thinking critically and clinically. Journal of Nursing. 4(1). 2-9.
Bucknall, T. (2003). The clinical landscape of critical care: nurses’ decision-making. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 43:310–9.
Simmons, B. et al. (2003). Clinical reasoning in experienced nurses. West Journal of Nursing Research. 25(6):702–19.
Yang, S. A, & Jung D. Y. (2004). A study on the critical thinking disposition about student nurse. Journal of Adult Nursing. 16:156–65.