The Nursing Need Theory

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TheNursing Need Theory

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TheNursing Need Theory

VirginiaHenderson developed the nursing need theory in 1966 as put byAlligood (2014) and incorporated it in the fifth edition of Harmer’sTextbookof Principles and Practices of Nursingin 1991. Due to her definition of nursing and the concept that shedeveloped regarding the field, she has been denoted to as “TheNightingale of Modern Nursing,” “The 20thcentury Nightingale,” and “The Modern-Day Mother of Nursing”(Ahtisham and Sommer, 2015). This noble nurse and theorist was bornin 1897, in Kansas City, Missouri and went to the Army School ofNursing at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. She attained aDiploma in Nursing in 1921 from the college (Alligood, 2014). Aftergraduating, she worked for two years at the Henry Street VisitingNurse Service and later started teaching at the Norfolk ProtestantHospital in Virginia in 1923. She then joined the Teachers College inVirginia University in 1929 and attained a Bachelor’s Degree in1932, and later a Master’s Degree in 1934 (Alligood, 2014).Henderson then joined Columbia University as a member of the facultyand retained the position until 1948 then later joined YaleUniversity School of Nursing as a research associate from 1953 asshown by Ahtisham and Sommer (2015).

Hercontributions to the field of nursing and the development ofimportant concepts earned her numerous recognitions and honorarydegrees. In 1985 for example, Henderson was honored at the AlliedHealth Section of the Medical Library Association and during theAnnual Meeting of Nursing. In the same year, the InternationalCouncil of Nurses honored her with the Christiane Riemann Prize,which is perceived as the most prestigious award in the field(Alligood, 2014). Her theory was developed through experience andinteraction with both patients and professionals in the field.

Overviewof the Theory and Analysis of the Major Components

Throughher approach, Henderson defined nursing as the profession whoseunique function is to assist a person, irrespective of their healthstatus, perform the activities that contribute to the promotion oftheir health, or the recovery of the same as displayed by Fernandes(2016). The theory was developed through different assumptions thattied the nurses to their roles of offering care. One of theassumptions of the Need Theory is that nurses care for their patientsuntil they regain the capacity to care for themselves. The secondassumption provides that patients have a strong desire to have goodhealth. The third notion is that nurses possess a strong will toserve and that they will remain devoted to the patient at all times.The theorist also believed that there is an interrelationship betweenthe mind and the body and that the two are inseparable.

Thetheorist also came up with fourteen different components that relateto the human needs. She categorized the activities of nursing basingon the components. These were also referred to as the sub-concepts ofher theory. According to Alligood (2015), the components included:

  1. Breath normally.

  2. Eat and drink adequately.

  3. Eliminate body wastes.

  4. Move and maintain desirable postures.

  5. Sleep and rest.

  6. Select suitable clothes – dress and undress.

  7. Maintain a proper body temperature.

  8. Keep the body clean and well groomed.

  9. Avoid environmental dangers and avoid hurting others.

  10. Communicate with others in conveying emotions, needs, fears, or opinions.

  11. Worship according to one’s faith.

  12. Work in a manner that there is a sense of accomplishment.

  13. Play or take part in different forms of recreation.

  14. Learn, discover, or satisfy the curiosity that leads to normal development and health, and use the available health facilities.

Throughher fourteen sub-concepts, the theorist developed four majorconcepts. These focused on the topics of individual, environment,health, and nursing as a field (Alligood, 2015). On the issue ofindividual, Henderson suggested that people have different healthneeds that call for assistance in their achievement. She went on tonote that a person could only achieve wholeness through themaintenance of psychological and emotional balance. The theoryportrayed the patient as a combination of parts with biopsychologicalneeds and that the body and the mind are interrelated andinseparable. On the issue of the environment, she suggested that oneof the fundamental tasks is to maintain a supportive environment,which is conducive or proper health (Fernandes, 2016). On health, shesuggested that it is the balance in all the realms of human life. Thetheory also provided that nurses are the key people in the promotionof health, offering cure, and in the prevention of diseases. On thenursing component, she displayed through her definition of nurse thatthe goals of a nurse are to ensure that the patient is whole,complete, and independent.

PersonalRelevance of the Theory

Hendersondeveloped the theory based on her experience as a nurse and as ateacher. She started her career as a public health nurse in 1921 andhad to face different kinds of patients. It is from such experiencethat Henderson realized the needs of the patients and related them tothe roles of the nurse. She used the fourteen principles of nursingto make sure that the patients were comfortable as they received carefrom the nurses (Fernandes, 2016). According to her, it was thenurses’ responsibility to help a sick person get to a bettercondition, and if they are suffering from a terminal illness, to makethe dying process as peaceful as possible. She focused much on thepatient in the development of her theory.

Relevanceof the Theory to Healthcare

Thetheorist’s definition of nursing is still applicable in the fieldtoday. The roles of a nurse always include helping patients inactivities of daily living. They mainly focus on the patients who areunable to conduct some activities due to a debilitating condition.The concepts presented in the theory and the fourteen primary needsare very influential in the day-to-day activity of the nurse.

Theroles of the nurse in delivering healthcare needs are also covered inthe theory. Henderson characterized the functions of the nurse assubstitutive, supplementary, and complimentary. She displayed thatthe nurse has a substitutive role where she conducts some activitiesfor the patient since they are unable to. Through the supplementaryrole, the theorist suggested that the nurse has a role in helping thepatient while for the complimentary part he or she engages with thepatient in undertaking some activities. Her theory makes the nursesunderstand that their role is to help the patient become whole againand able to take care of themselves even after the termination of thenurse’s care.

Applicationof the Theory in Research

Justlike in any other healthcare field, nursing calls for research in thedevelopment of better ways to provide care. The theorist’s beliefof developing her work with unending brush up gave other artists thechance to establish well-defined frameworks. The theory has acted asa foundation for refining the preparation for nursing. Hendersonstressed on the need for research in ensuring that the nurses’practice improves. The fourteen components also call for the need toestablish other personality needs that will make sure that the rolesof the nurses are competent in meeting the needs of the patients.

and Conclusion

Henderson’stheory of need in nursing is of great significance in the field ofnursing. She focused much on the patient in the development of thetheory and based her concepts on the topics of individual,environment, health, and nursing. She developed fourteen sub-conceptsbasing on the four topics to elaborate on the roles of the nurse. Shealso developed a definition of a nurse and his or her relation to thepatients and their needs. The theory is relatively simple but can begeneralized and can be used by practitioners in improving theirpractice (Ahtisham and Sommer, 2015). Even with the merits, thetheory lacks the concept of holistic nature of a human being. Thereis a lack of conceptual connection between the psychological andother characteristics of humans. The theory also fails to explain howa nurse would help a person in the dying process.


Ahtisham,Y., &amp Sommer, J. (2015). Integrating Nursing Theory and Processinto Practice Virginia’s Henderson Need Theory. InternationalJournal of Caring Sciences,8(2),443-449. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from

Alligood,M. R. (2014). NursingTheorists and their Work(8th Ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Mosby.

Fernandes,B. (2016). Nursing process based on Virginia Henderson applied for aworking elderly. Journalof Nursing UFPE,10(9).doi:10.5205/reuol.9571-83638-1-SM1009201630