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What Does the Theory-Practice Gap Really Mean?

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As standards of care continue to evolve from practices rooted in custom and tradition, to an evidence-based profession, there can often seem to be a disconnect between what is considered best practice and actual practice. This is a problem because as Matthew and Tucker note when clinical practice no longer reflects the best available scientific evidence the result can be sub-standard patient care.

The theory-practice gap is nothing new and even though the challenge of bringing research evidence and clinical practice closer together has been recognised for years, it still remains a problem, especially for newly qualified staff. For nurse educators , the dichotomy between the theoretical input taught in the classroom and what is practised or experienced on the wards remains a perennial problem Landers , and nowhere is this gap so large as for newly qualified students.

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There have been many initiatives introduced over the years in an effort to bridge the theory-practice gap and most of these have focused on the role of the nurse teacher, preceptor or mentor. Yet despite a high level of awareness of the problem and a willingness to find creative solutions, barriers still remain to integrate research-based theories into clinical practice.

Armstong , makes the following suggestions about why this problem remains so difficult to tackle. Whilst questions about how to completely close the theory-practice gap remain unanswered, the role of the mentor is gaining increasing recognition as the best way for novice practitioners to make sure that their knowledge is both up to date and relevant to their practice.


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This is why nurse educators and competent mentors have such an important part to play in encouraging reflection and critical thinking to help minimize the gap between research and practice. By sharing their experiential knowledge validated by real experience they can assist learners to keep their knowledge up to date in a way that is both consistent and valid for real patient care.

As Rolfe simply points out the aim of nursing research is the generation of knowledge, and whilst this is a relevant aim in theory-based disciplines, such as sociology, the primary concern of nursing is with practice.

Barriers to Implementing Research

In other words, if clinical research is actually to make a difference to practice it must be practitioner based. To date, all attempts to bring research and practice closer together have been at best only partially successful. So, given that expectations of completely closing the research-practice gap are unrealistic, how can nurse academics and educators help to support a closer relationship between research and clinical practice?

To do this of course practitioners need to have access to updated information, learning resources, and continuing educational opportunities.

Closing the Theory-Practice Gap: Is it Possible?

Resources that are not always readily available in busy and potentially under-resourced clinical environments. In an ideal situation, research is informed by clinical practice and practice informed by research. This is an issue that needs the early attention of companies, academic and professional institutions of education as well as the Government at policymaking level.

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    Notifications View Subscribe. Can lessons learnt from the construction industry be used in IT and organisational projects? The project management industry needs to become involved in a journey of continual development and improvement of tools and processes for projects generally. This journey must start with the theory, as the answers do not currently exist. Enquire as to how you can come on site and you will be informed you need to do a site induction and the general process required for this.

    GOAL closing gap between theory and practice in climate resilience

    Now walk into any organisation and ask them what is the largest most critical project they are currently running and we have all been involved in them or even managed them and ask similar questions and compare the answers. With such a simple exercise I believe we see a vast difference in organisation and process for these two types of projects.

    While the construction industry will demonstrate clear guidelines and processes, the IT and organisational areas will provide a vast array of differing processes and methodologies and few, if any, guidelines and regulations, or sophisticated software tools. Additionally, there is a lack of any standard approach or methodology.

    The analogy with construction projects and projects in organisations and IT projects extends to highlight the lack of standard processes, guidelines, rules or tools in the latter. In construction projects, there is a known quantity in terms of the length of time required to build a building, therefore some reasonable estimates can be made during the first stage of construction—feasibility—including site selection and assessment and net present value lifecycle calculation.

    Would everyone be able to agree on what is the first stage of a project carried out in an organisation or IT area? This will differ according to the organisation, and even business division, as to methods used.


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    While construction projects must have a plan before they can commence, projects in organisations and IT areas often commence with an expectation set by senior management or executive management at the outset, and is based on no plan or estimation of work to be performed or cost or any other scientific or actual data.