How to Create a Basic Nursing Concept Map

SimpleNursing Team May 2, 2022
A young brunette nurse takes notes onto a chart with clipboard next to a male nurse with stethoscope

A nursing concept map is a visual model outlining the relationship between various nursing concepts. The use of concept mapping has been an integral component of nursing programs for decades. Nursing schools have long relied on this method to teach critical thinking skills to nursing students and prepare them to apply their theoretical nursing education in clinical settings.

So, what exactly is a nursing concept map? How effective is it as a teaching strategy, and how should you go about creating one? This article answers these questions and shows you how to create your own concept map template in minutes.

What is a nursing concept map?

A nursing concept map is a tool that defines, organizes, and categorizes information pertaining to a nursing care plan, a medical diagnosis, nursing tasks, or nursing interventions, among many other fundamental topics. The map can follow several different structures, with the following four being the most commonly used:

  • Spider maps: Spider mapping is the structure you will encounter the most in nursing. These maps feature a main topic at the center and sub-elements grouped around it.
  • Hierarchical maps: These maps outline concepts from top to bottom, with the main topic at the top and more specific concepts below.
  • Flow charts: These are simple diagrams that outline a workflow. Nursing flow charts represent the nursing process in sequential order.
  • System maps: Just like flow charts, these maps organize the workflow in sequential order. The difference between the two is that system maps add inputs and outputs to the main diagram.

What is a nursing concept map used for?

Nursing schools use nursing concept maps as teaching tools. Concept mapping helps initiate students into the nursing workflow by distilling complex information into simple visual concepts. This approach aims to provide nurses with the relevant information needed to make the correct nursing diagnosis, apply the appropriate patient care plan, or determine outcomes for a patient.

As a learning strategy, nursing concept maps have proven effective in improving students’ decision-making, clinical judgment, and ability to see the big picture regarding the steps required to provide the best health care to the patient.

According to a study by Janet K. Garwood, Azza H. Ahmed, and Sara A. McComb, the effects of concept mapping are especially noticeable in students’ improved critical thinking skills and ability to apply theory to nursing practice.

A step-by-step guide to creating a basic nursing concept map

Now that you are familiar with nursing concept maps and their role in nurse education today, let’s break down how to create your concept map.

Step 1: Start with the main concept map topic

Choosing a main topic is the first step when using the spider-mapping structure. Depending on need and priority, your main element could be any of the following:

  • Patient care plan: This patient care plan topic covers anything deemed relevant to patient care, from past medical history to risk factors. The intended purpose is to equip nurses with every piece of information that could aid in devising the right care plan for the patient.
  • Medical diagnosis: Medical diagnosis maps dive into any element that pertains to the diagnosis of the disease. This includes risk factors, symptoms, medications, complications, and interventions.
  • SBAR: This acronym stands for situation, background, assessment, and recommendation. SBAR concept maps represent all the information nurses need to ensure smooth communication between them and doctors. 
  • Nursing responsibilities: Nursing teams also use concept maps to delineate tasks and duties. For instance, the tasks expected from a surgical nurse will be specifically illustrated on the map. In this case, elements like prevention of infection, behavior response, and post-up care might be grouped around the main topic.

Step 2: Determine secondary subsections

Once you’ve picked your main topic, the next step is grouping a set of subsections around it. Using a patient care plan map as our example, the elements below can be used as secondary subsections for the topic:

  • Assessment
  • Diagnostic process
  • Current patient history
  • Risk factors
  • Patient info
  • Past medical history
  • Medication list

Step 3: List key info for each subsection

After picking your subsections, supplement each category with key info that expands on each concept. Using the same patient care plan example, here are some possible key elements for the secondary subsections above:

  • Assessment > Diagnosis
  • Diagnostic process > Lab results – physical exam results
  • Current patient history > Day of admission – chief complaint
  • Risk factors > Use of tobacco products – dietary habits
  • Patient info > Age – sex – race – marital status
  • Past medical history > Childhood illnesses – major adulthood illnesses – surgical history – injury history – allergies – prior hospitalizations
  • Medication list > Medication one – medication two – medication three

Nursing Concept Map Example

Nursing concept maps visually represent the relationship between points within the nursing process. They should include all (or as many as possible) key points mentioned above to get a full picture of your patient’s case.

Take a look at this nursing concept map example to help you understand how to put it all together: 

Looking for more examples of nursing processes? SimpleNursing can help

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