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The Importance of Nursing Theory

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The nursing profession requires continued research to improve patient outcomes. When any type of crack in the way we care for patients as nurses is perceived, often a theory is offered to expand patient care and better their outcomes. This is the very essence of why we have nursing theories; to better our patients’ outcomes. Nursing theory is an idea or intuition based on perceived or needed improvements in nursing care or patient outcomes. Through this process, nursing theory keeps the nursing profession moving forward and constantly advancing, after all, most of what we do is evidenced based, so it would only make sense that our theories and components that drive us are also constantly evolving. Nursing theory is simply a framework for the nursing profession (CCN, 2016). A theory is so much of what defines us as nurses. Whether we realize it or not, everything we do has the theory behind it. Before this course, I had little exposure to nursing theory. We read about it and are taught about it (somewhat) in our BSN programs.

As a nurse that is still green, with three years of experience, I have always known things were done a certain way but never stopped to question the why behind them. It has been very eye-opening to view nursing theory in such a way where I truly feel I am beginning to understand it. I also feel it helps solidify the clinical implementation and helps to solidify its place in the practice setting that we work in. Nursing theory has experienced a significant transformation over the last few decades. Over a century ago, Florence Nightingale defined what it was to be a nurse. She expressed how the core of what we do is not a job, but rather the caring for of a soul. Here we are, well over a hundred years later and the concepts she worked to instill in the nursing values have grown abundantly as well as changed from a submissive caretaker to “ a profession with its own foundational concepts and theories to guide practice which marked the beginning of nursing theory development (Walker, 2013).” The theory I have chosen to focus on is Virginia Henderson’s theory of nursing and the application of its key concepts into practice; individual, environment, health, and nursing. I will address and analyze the importance of the theory to modern-day nursing. Finally, this paper will cover the views of the theory on a nursing specialty.

Nursing theory lays the foundation for professional nursing practice. Theories help define nursing and help to differentiate it from other healthcare professions by establishing professional boundaries. Each nursing theory and theorist are important to our profession because they have helped to expand our knowledge on nursing and helped to pave a path for our professions expansion. Overall, the use of theory in nursing practice leads to organized and more cohesive theories require integration into all levels of education and appreciation relevant to clinical application (Lee and Facet, 2013). When one is furthering their education in a master’s or doctoral program, the programs focus on analytical thinking. Theory absolutely needs to be included in a graduate level program since the significance of theory for analytical thinking is necessary for nursing practice. To further nursing knowledge on theory, you better the nurse’s ability to practice and give care as well as grow as a caretaker. It needs to be mentioned that nursing is known worldwide to be one of the hardest working and most caring professions. This directly relates back to the theory of caring.

Nursing theory can be used to separate the nursing profession from other healthcare professions by using its framework from the vast number of theories present to identify the purpose of nursing and the characteristics of nurses. It is hard to pinpoint any negative that comes from the concept of theory in nursing, but if I had to choose one, it would be that it may be possible for nurses start to delve too deeply into theory, leaving the patient, patient-focused problem solving, the human side of the nurse-patient relationship and the creation of an environment of healing will be less focused on and even perhaps lost.

The Need Theory is a nursing concept developed and published by Virginia Henderson in 1966. By 1972, she had revised her theory to fit the modern-day nurse and for the last time in 1991 (Gonzalo, A., 2015). Her emphasis on basic human needs as the center of all that encompasses nursing is essentially what her theory comes down to. According to Henderson, individuals have basic needs that essentially make up their health circumstances. Patients may need help to achieve health and independence.

For the individual, mind and body are one and other factors come to play such as sociological, spiritual, psychological and biological. Henderson’s theory sees the patient as a sum of parts with human needs vs. just a client or another number. Henderson theory almost describes the patient as a soul, rather than a sick person. This is essentially the basis of the first concept (individual). The second concept is the patient’s environment and or unique setting; nursing is to assess how the environment affects or influences health. It is up to the nurse to either change the environment to foster healing or make the environment safer, calm/quite (Gonzalo, A, 2015). The third concept is health encompassing patient education for prevention and care with the disease. Nursing is challenged by cultural backgrounds, physical health of the patient, intellectual grasp of health, and emotional balance to promote independence with illness. The fourth and final concept is nursing in and of itself; a nurse’s duty is to assist and support individual patients in the healing process towards independence. The nurse will also help to foster that incorporates the mind, body, and illness in the spectrum. The Henderson nursing model theory allows nurses to see the patient as a whole and take into consideration when treating cultural aspects, illness, and patient desires. The Henderson theory is slightly more complex than just four concepts mentioned; within the aforementioned four concepts encompasses another fourteen mechanisms emulating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and the Florence Nightingale of modern nursing theory. These ideas bring me so much joy as it’s the essence of functional and holistic medicine that drives me and that I crave to bring to a medical practice as an NP.

When applying Henderson’s Need theory to my future practice as a graduate level nurse, I believe it signifies how a nurse should feel, think, and react to their patient. There are steps and categories to fit each and every part of patient care which is a breath of fresh air. She keeps it simple. Although simplified, it gives the foundation for treating a patient with dignity and respect and at the very core, love. Nurse practitioners, like nurses, have different ways of performing tasks. AWhen studying different theorists and what was written by them, graduate nurses can relate to one or more theories which can then help guide them in their future endeavor (Donahue-Porter, 2014). The Need theory in its simplicity allows a nurse (Family Nurse Practitioner) to act as an advocate for the patient. It is going to be our job as FNP’s to provide an abundance of knowledge, encourage when there is no motivation, and when necessary use prescription methods to reset the patient to within normal limits, (Gonzalo, A., 2015). A few examples of this theory applied to my current nursing practice also come to mind. I see how I use this daily with my patients and do not even realize it. I always prioritize my assignment, first thing, using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As nurses on a busy step down unit, I work with mostly post open heart surgery patients. Everything we do revolves around getting my patients up and moving as soon as possible after their surgery and working towards that discharge (independence Another example of Henderson’s theory put in to play would be another example of discharge goals; making sure a patient is a safety ready to return home or deciding if they need rehabilitation help. Overall I can clearly see how Henderson’s model is used in my current daily practice, as well as how I will utilize this in my future as an FNP.

In conclusion, I just love Henderson’s take on these concepts. Her views and components of her theory show a holistic approach to nursing that far surpasses just a physiological but goes deeper into the patients social, spiritual and psychical health as well. She used caring and the human side of nursing to break down the overall nursing plan for a patient from illness back to optimum health. Becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner will allow me the autonomy to be the patient advocate and assist each individual patient with dignity and respect; something I have always wanted to do, paired with treating diseases and the body at the core. In truth, many of the nursing theories I have read about did not interest me very much, although I recognize how much I use them. Henderson’s theory speaks to me on deeper levels. With my background in dietary nutrition, fitness, and yoga as well as nursing, I hope and plan to apply these concepts Henderson teaches us about, in my daily advanced nursing practice.


Chamberlain College of Nursing (CCN). (2016). Development of nursing theory and concept analysis. Retrieved from https://my.chamberlain.edu (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
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Donohue-Porter, P. (2014). The Creative Élan of Nursing Theory: Indispensable to Leadership. Nursing Science Quarterly, 27(4), 330-335. doi:10.1177/0894318414546413

Gonzalo, A., (2015). Virginia Henderson. Theoretical Foundations of Nursing. Retrieved 11 March 2016, from http://nursingtheories.weebly.com/virginia-henderson.html

Knight, E. P., & Shea, K. (2014). A Patient-Focused Framework Integrating Self-Management
and Informatics. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 46(2), 91-97. doi:10.1111/jnu.12059
Lee, R., & Fawcett, J. (2013). The influence of the metaparadigm of nursing on professional identity development among RN-BSN students. Nursing Science Quarterly, 26(1), 96-96.

Chamberlain College of Nursing (CCN). (2016). Development of nursing theory and concept analysis. Retrieved from https://my.chamberlain.edu (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
State-specific healthy life expectancy at age 65 years – United States, 2007-2009. (2013).
MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 62(28), 561-566.
Waller-Wise, R. (2013). Utilizing Henderson’s Nursing Theory in Childbirth Education.
International Journal Of Childbirth Education, 28(2), 30-34.

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