Clarifying the Meaning of Critical Thinking in Nursing Education
The phrase critical thinking is one of the most frequent that nursing students are introduced to. These key words appear repeatedly in written form in all nursing educational materials such as syllabi, classroom and clinical objectives, and assignment guidelines. Nursing educators also take many opportunities to discuss and reinforce the importance of critical thinking in both classroom and clinical experiences. However, these actions only cover part of the process nursing educators can use to clarify the importance of the process as an expectation and stimulate this valuable process.
There are other important considerations which need to be part of the process during all educator- student interactions. These considerations center on both the characteristics of critical thought as well as how to demonstrate it. The considerations are as follows:
1. Define the term. Critical thinking has as many varied definitions as there are resources to list them and are usually non-specific to educational specialty. Nursing’s view of this concept and its application to practice differs greatly compared to that of philosophy, science, criminal justice or any other learning discipline. No one definition is able to meet the specific criteria of any learning domain or discipline. The term needs to be tailored to each nursing program, curricula and course. Defining the term in writing as well as reinforcing it verbally assists students in understanding the importance of cultivating this skill and also to assist them in recognizing its use as an expectation of nursing education. This important foundation serves to promote critical thought templates that can evolve along with both nursing education as well as nursing practice.
2. Define it according to educational goals. In nursing education, thinking critically is assessed by how knowledge is applied. Integrated into all program and course competencies, as well as evaluative rubrics and other tools, it is ubiquitous. Defining, demonstrating and reinforcing how critical thinking is to be achieved and evaluated not only promotes the critical thinking process, but also can lessen student anxiety.
3. Define how it will be achieved and demonstrated in theoretical knowledge. Many nursing students may feel that the only way higher level thinking is demonstrated theoretically is through academic testing. It may be difficult for them to envision that static classroom knowledge must later be applied to a non-static patient care setting. This process is intimidating to nursing students. Reinforcing the need for this process along with providing a critical thinking template may ease the transition and promote habits which foster the growth and evolution of critical thinking. This is the heart of nursing wisdom.
Another area within theoretical knowledge needing to be addressed is that of note taking and studying. Critical thought growth and development are both deeply dependent upon learning styles and brain processing. Educational progression from learning and understanding to application is accomplished with evolving critical thinking skills. Success begins with this step.
4. Define how it will be achieved and demonstrated in clinical practice. Although the clinical performance evaluation tool is used for this, it is helpful to fully explain, define and emphasize specific actions and characteristics both as expectations of as well as demonstration of critical thinking competency. Along with concepts such as the nursing process, holism, safety and communication which are integrated into nursing care, this would also include characteristics and actions such as information gathering, formulating a patient problem list and planning care.
5. Demonstrate and reinforce these principles. No matter the educational setting, the principles and characteristics of critical thinking can be demonstrated, discussed, reinforced and integrated into any activity. This process assists with providing various perspectives for students on what critical thinking is and how to apply it. Nurse educators also benefit as they gain valuable insight into both student needs and learning outcomes.