Complexity Theory as Applied to Nursing

3997 words 16 pages
Complexity Theory as Applied to Nursing, 2005


Many conventional ideas about the world we live in have been shaken to their foundations by the emerging concepts of chaos and complexity. Insights are now being gained from the application of complexity theory into phenomena varying in scale from the natural sciences such as biology to the concept of caring in the nurse-patient relationship. These new scientific ideas have significant implications for the theory and practice of nursing.
This paper will cover four key concepts from complexity theory that will be introduced as relevance to nursing. These include: unpredictable dynamic systems; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; fuzzy and permeable boundaries;
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The basic ingredients are therefore present which allow us to view health and nursing at least by analogy, as potentially chaotic systems.

The implications of this insight are simple and far-reaching; small changes today can have major and unforeseen consequences tomorrow. The corollary of which is that it is not possible to predict with any accuracy what may be all the effects of any healthcare reforms 10 or 20 years into the future, just as nobody can predict the weather, even a few days ahead. Instructional and Faculty development could have far reaching effects on the success or failure of future nurses and philosophical underpinnings of health care approaches such as critical thinking in health promotion. Health care is a potentially chaotic system and, until the rules governing that system have been uncovered, long-term predictions must be hedged with considerable uncertainty. Pediani (1996) is one of the few British nurses to have drawn attention to the subject of chaos theory. He cites examples from the biological sciences, such as the observation that patient responses to medication are not as predictable as was once thought. Sensitive dependence upon initial conditions, coupled with feedback, might produce completely unpredicted abnormal responses.
We are all familiar with patients who defy the textbooks and conventional medical wisdom, to survive serious life-threatening illness


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