What Is Epistemology in Nursing?


Vincent White

Epistemology in Nursing: Understanding the Basis of Knowledge in Healthcare

As a nurse, it is essential to have a strong understanding of epistemology – the study of knowledge and its acquisition. This is because nursing is an evidence-based practice that relies heavily on empirical evidence and scientific research to provide the best care possible for patients. In this article, we will delve into the fundamentals of epistemology in nursing and explore how this field shapes the way nurses think, learn, and practice.

What is Epistemology?

Epistemology comes from two Greek words – “episteme” meaning knowledge and “logos” meaning study. Therefore, epistemology can be defined as the study of knowledge, its nature, origin, and scope. It deals with questions such as:

  • What is knowledge?
  • How is knowledge acquired?
  • What are the limits of human understanding?
  • How can we differentiate between true and false beliefs?

The Importance of Epistemology in Nursing

In nursing, epistemology plays a critical role in defining how nurses approach their work. Nurses are required to make complex decisions every day that affect patient outcomes. These decisions must be based on sound reasoning backed by trustworthy evidence.

Nursing Knowledge

Nursing knowledge can be categorized into two main types: theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge.

Theoretical knowledge refers to scientific principles that underpin nursing practice. This includes anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, etc. Nurses must have a sound understanding of these principles to provide effective care.

Practical knowledge refers to experiential learning gained through practice. This includes skills such as communication with patients and families, assessment techniques, medication administration procedures, etc.

Epistemological Theories Relevant to Nursing Practice

There are several epistemological theories that are relevant to nursing practice. These include:


This theory assumes that knowledge is objective, universal, and based on empirical evidence. It emphasizes the use of scientific methods to acquire knowledge.


This theory assumes that knowledge is subjective and is constructed by individuals based on their experiences and interactions with the world around them. It emphasizes the importance of social and cultural contexts in shaping knowledge.


This theory assumes that knowledge is dynamic and evolves as new experiences and evidence emerge. It emphasizes the importance of practical application of knowledge in solving real-world problems.


In conclusion, epistemology provides a framework for understanding how nurses acquire, process, and apply knowledge. It helps nurses navigate complex decision-making processes by providing a basis for sound reasoning backed by trustworthy evidence. By understanding the fundamental principles of epistemology, nurses can improve patient outcomes by providing evidence-based care that is rooted in sound scientific principles.