nursing practiceThe nursing practice is governed by exacting standards set down by the relevant state authorities in collaboration with nurses, universities, governments, etc. It is these exacting standards, and in particular how they relate to and reflect critical thinking in nursing, that we will be discussing and examining.

So, what is critical thinking in nursing?

Jones in Potter & Perry’s states, ‘The ability to think critically through the application of knowledge and experience, problem solving and decision making is central to professional nursing practice’ (2004:268).&

Bandman & Bandman defines critical thinking as the, ‘rational examination of ideas, inferences, assumptions, principles, arguments, conclusions, issues, statements, beliefs and actions’ (1995:7). Similarly, Paul & Heaslip define critical thinking as, ‘the ability to monitor what we are thinking, doing so by focusing on critical points in the process, checking to see if we really are on target, and if we are accurate in our assessment’ (1995:40).

Johnson & Webber further introduce the idea that critical thinking as a term has been over the years used interchangeably with concepts such as decision making, nursing process, problem solving, evaluation, critical analysis, judgement, reflection and reasoning (2005:52).

How, then, do we determine a definition for this broad term? 

It is clear that critical thinking encompasses many facets, but do these definitions offered by other authors cover the full gamut of the term?  Socrates may hold the explanation. The Socratic Method of investigative inquiry demonstrates the foundations of critical thinking by asking ‘who, what, when, why, define, clarify, describe, relate, explain, justify and what if’.  Socrates knew, according to Johnson and Webber, ‘that the identification, clarification and understanding of the origin, nature, direction and boundaries of one’s thoughts and opinions would increase the truthfulness, reliability and validity of, and accountability for one’s thoughts and opinions’ (2005:51). By looking at Socrates Method along side Bandman & Bandman’s and Paul & Heaslip’s definitions of critical thinking, we begin to see similarities, such as rational examination, monitoring thinking, focusing & checking.

Now, we can begin to develop a clear understanding of what critical thinking is. This definition does, however, raise more questions.  It would seem that Jones believes that in order to develop the critical thinking ability, one must have knowledge and experience, as well as problem solving and decision making abilities. Does this mean that a beginning nurse practitioner with little experience and virtually no decision making ability has not the ability to think critically?

Bandman and Bandman seem to have answered this question to some degree in their definition, by excluding these terms and relating critical thinking to a rational examination at the level you are currently at. This approach seems then to allow the beginning practitioner to practice the concepts of critical thinking, and while they may not have all the information, the process of checking, questioning and testing explained in this definition assists them to gain not only information but also experience.

In the second part of this series we will examine how critical thinking is applied and relates to nursing as a whole. Stay tuned.