Theory-guided practice in nursing entails the use of theory to organize, analyze and make sense of information in order to understand a clinical situation which enables the nurse to take appropriate action. On the other hand, evidence-based practice is the adoption of a particular intervention based on the strength of the evidence pertaining to its efficacy. Where theory-guided practice is deductive in nature, i.e. a general perspective applied to the particular, evidence-based practice is collecting available research findings on different ways of addressing a clinical phenomenon, evaluating this evidence and then concluding which intervention is best for similar phenomena. EBP is inductive and in this sense works to validate theory. The two types of practice address different aspects of nursing. EBP attempts to fill in gaps in nursing care while theory-guided practice concerns the planning and implementation of care.
An example of theory-based practice is actively obtaining information about a patient’s cultural background and applying Madeleine Leininger’s theory on transcultural nursing in order to provide appropriate but culture-sensitive care. Drawing on theoretical knowledge of culture-bound definitions of health and caring, the nurse is able to tailor nursing interventions to become compatible with and not contradictory to the patient’s beliefs and values. For example, Muslims have certain beliefs about childbirth and in the context of obstetric nursing, the nurse coordinates with the health care team to makes sure that these beliefs are upheld during the provision of care. Evidence-based practice in the same situation involves performing a literature search to determine the best way to approach the topic of reproductive health care with the Muslim patient during patient teaching. Both ways, the theory is applied and then validated.