Aim. This paper reports a comprehensive literature review exploring how the term ‘transition’ has been used in the health literature.
Background. The meaning of transition has varied with the context in which the term has been used. The last 3 decades have seen altered understandings in the concept of transition in the social science and health disciplines, with nurses contributing to more recent understandings of the transition process as it relates to life and health.
Method. The CINAHL, Medline, Sociofile and Psychlit databases were accessed and papers published between 1994 and 2004 were retrieved to answer the questions ‘How is the word transition used?’ and ‘What is the concept of transition informing?’ Transition theoretical frameworks were also explored.
Findings. Widespread use of the word ‘transition’ suggests that it is an important concept. Transitional definitions alter according to the disciplinary focus, but most agree that transition involves people's responses during a passage of change. Transition occurs over time and entails change and adaptation, for example developmental, personal, relational, situational, societal or environmental change, but not all change engages transition. Reconstruction of a valued self-identity is essential to transition. Time is an essential element in transition and therefore longitudinal studies are required to explore the initial phase, midcourse experience and outcome of the transition experience.
Conclusion. Transition is the way people respond to change over time. People undergo transition when they need to adapt to new situations or circumstances in order to incorporate the change event into their lives. Transition is a concept that is important to nursing; however, to further develop understandings, research must extend beyond single events or single responses. Longitudinal comparative and longitudinal cross-sectional inquiries are required to further develop the concept.