Application of a Nursing Theory: The Peplau’s Theory


The nursing profession involves well-developed and tested theories. Utilizing these theories of nursing makes the healthcare practice unique and relevant in contemporary times. This study applies Peplau’s theory of interpersonal relations to the nurse educator-nurse-student relationship. This analysis will show the implication of the theory of interpersonal relations for the successful transition of nurse students in the nursing profession. The manner in which preceptors orient new graduates in the nursing practice plays a central role in patient outcomes. Nurse students’ perception is subject to the interpersonal relations that are developed between them and their tutors. The theory of interpersonal relations is a middle-range theory and it provides narrow and precise empirical indicators to the nursing practice. Integrating interpersonal theory into nursing education assumes a series of steps with a defined pattern, thus leading to the attainment of defined goals. This paper will cover phases of interpersonal relationships in nursing education, viz. orientation, which defines the problem or objective, the identification of the way forward to tackling the problem, and the exploitation of relevant knowledge to establish solving alternatives. Ultimately, the paper will cover the resolution phase where the preceptor disengages and allows the graduate students to apply the acquired knowledge. In addition, this paper will examine the impact that the theory of interpersonal relations has made on the educator-student relationship by exploring the significance, direction, and magnitude of the relationship.

Literature review

The demand for nurses in the United States is increasingly escalating due to the developing need for quality and effective healthcare provision. This aspect has caused a shortage in supply of workforce, thus forcing hospitals to focus on hiring fresh graduate nurses to work in high responsive capacities. One of the major problems for graduate nurses is successful transition into the workplace. Giallonardo, Wong, and Iwasiw (2010) note that preceptors have significant impact on the transition process from student to professional nurse. The current debates amongst nurse educators touch on finding the ideal balance of nursing education and the need to prepare students to handle healthcare responsively coupled with developing a wide perspective of the profession. However, nurse educators encounter challenges in ensuring successful transition for new entries. A nurse educator might be assigned to orient a huge class of undergraduate students of different ages, beliefs, and class diversity, which might slow or inhibit the learning progress. The educator may also lack the ideas of building a good relationship and the willingness to nurture such environment. Therefore, the incorporation of the theory of interpersonal relationship in nursing education becomes essential in addressing such issues.

The study by Lavoie-Tremblay, Paquet, Marchionni, and Drevniok (2011) suggests that the manner in which nurse education is administered, socialized, or oriented is essential in determining the transition process. Just as the practicing nurses develop nurse-patient relations needed for the well-being of the patient, nursing educators need to establish interpersonal relations with their students to instill lifelong skills, which are needed for successful transition to practice. The study also established that the initial impression established at the start of the relationship, whether regressive or progressive, is the impression that persist through the learning stages as applied in the Peplau’s theory (Lavoie-Tremblay et al., 2011). This research shows that mutual relationship between educators and learners provide emotional support in times of despair coupled with facilitating learning and integration of complex models to practice.

Orientation phase

The theory of interpersonal relationship seeks to understand an individual’s behavior when exposed to certain conditions. The major principle in this theory is to help educators learn and understand the students’ difficulties in studying nursing as an interpersonal process through effective communication. Orientation is the first stage that involves knowing the participants’ inherent and ascribed factors such as culture, values, preconceived ideas, beliefs, and relational engagement expectations. This aspect is crucial in determining the objective after the problems are identified. New graduates have demonstrated that they need guidance and support with preparation for roles they take, and thus it is necessary for educators to address such issues. Different students have varying needs, which should be examined keenly as some students might find the subject difficult to understand. Educators should engage interpersonal skills in a bid to understand such needs. Studies by Giallonardo et al. (2010) show that the Peplau’s theory assists in dealing with individuals with depression resulting from engaging in environments, which lack the aspects needed for student development. In this case, educators should be easy to approach and discuss nursing issues from an interactive perspective that facilitates student development.

Working phase

Learning institutions should select appropriate educator with good interpersonal skills. When students have confidence with their educators, it is easy for them to develop the capability to handle complex situations by applying what they learn from their teachers. The educator identifies the students’ problems and allows them to learn about what is expected of them as nursing students and in the future as professionals. According to the interpersonal theory, the educators’ interventions enable nurse students to acquire interpersonal and intellectual skills that grow through the educator-student interactions. Students start to embrace and appreciate the need for help and consultation with the tutor or fellow learners. Students are encouraged to engage in group work and voluntary exchange of ideas to learn from each other and reinforce their interpersonal relations. Statements that discourage or compare students do not make transition easy since they demonstrate lack of understanding of the necessity for relationship and confidence building. Interpersonal relations assist the educator and the students to identify opportunities for growth coupled with concentrating on aspects that enhance improvement (Giallonardo et al., 2010).

Exploitation stage

During this phase, students use the educator as a resource for development. The role of an educator “compares to that of a practicing nurse such as being a role model, having the desire to assist regardless of diversity issues, being a supportive person, and embracing close relationships” (Giallonardo et al., 2010, p. 995). Educators should be effective when influencing situations for better outcomes by ensuring that their practices do not hurt part of the group and discourage the development of interpersonal relations. The level of engagement and experience of the educator determines the quality of interpersonal relations as well as the outcomes. The theory of interpersonal relations emphasizes the concept of effective communication, which plays a central role between teachers and learners in nurturing of such relations (Alligood, 2014). Interpersonal relationships between teachers and learners create a sense of belonging and responsibility in future roles as professional nurses. Educators assist students in exploring all possibilities coupled with seeking alternative, but informed procedures in ensuring that progress is made towards effective transition.

Resolution phase

At this stage, problems are solved and objectives met, but the need to continue mentoring is inevitable because nursing as a practice needs immense motivation for new graduates. During this stage, it is critical for educators to assess and evaluate the learners to ensure that they have the requisite skills and confidence to embark on the nursing practice. It is necessary for learning institutions to ensure that they do not compromise quality for quantity due to the rising demand for nurses. Therefore, interpersonal relations are needed in a bid to meet market demand for nurses, whilst upholding quality. If students disengage with their educators equipped with vast interpersonal skills, it is easy for them to become more competent and transition successfully to become professional nurses. According to Lavoie-Tremblay et al. (2011), the theory of interpersonal relations suggests that the number of educators should be as limited as possible to ensure less conflict of ideas and improved ability to establish and retain a relationship. The number of students should be minimal and the time spent should be adequate to ensure sequential personal development and the acquisition of problem solving skills.

The ethical aspect of the interpersonal theory on its application in the nursing education hinges on the view that this theory is presented logically, thus providing testable hypothesis. Tutor-student interactions have used attributes of compassion and acceptance to instill positive ethical ideals through the progressive phases of transition. The Peplau’s theory of learning continuum is consistent with the evolving nursing models in the contemporary society. The lack of individual space and invention of ideas is the limitation established in the study. Due to the existing interpersonal relations, students rush to seek advice from their educators even when the challenge at hand can be resolved at individual level, hence encouraging dependency (Lavoie-Tremblay et al., 2011).


The study established that for successful nursing education and transition of new graduates to the profession, an interpersonal relationship is indispensable. Effective communication was established as the main concept facilitating these relations. Communication skills play critical roles when evaluating the presence of the relations and determining aspects that prevent development. In respect to the hindrances found, nursing education should employ new learning systems with extended interaction during the orientation stages since it is the most fundamental stage that determines lasting impressions. Just as nurses interact with patients with respect, compassion, care, empathy, and acceptance, educators should adopt such attributes when dealing with learners for effective transition (Alligood, 2014). New graduates with vast interpersonal skills demonstrate composure and ease when transitioning to professional practice. Successful transition reduces the workload for the limited professional nurses in the US.


According to this study, new graduates transition successfully to professional nurses provided the tutor-student engagements involve interpersonal relations. The presence and magnitude of interpersonal relations at the orientation stage largely influence the progress and transition of students in the nursing practice. Since the nursing practice is ever evolving, preceptors should keep motivating and supporting the new entrants. As suggested in the Peplau’s interpersonal relations theory, nurses have varied orientations for different patients, and thus nurse educators should vary orientations for different learners in a bid to identify extreme learning needs for all. Finally, nurse educators should assist students to control their preconceptions as well as expectations about nursing education and the transition to practice.


Alligood, M. R. (2014). Nursing theory: Utilization & application (8th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

Giallonardo, L., Wong, C., & Iwasiw, C. (2010). Authentic leadership of preceptors: predictor of new graduate nurses’ work engagement and job satisfaction. Journal of Nursing Management, 18(8), 990-1003.

Lavoie-Tremblay, M., Paquet, M., Marchionni, C., & Drevniok, U. (2011). Turnover intention among new nurses. Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, 27(1), 39-45.

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