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Nursing Need Theory in the Contemporary World


Nursing Need Theory is one of the widely used nursing theories in the modern society. Developed by a nurse educator Virginia Henderson, this theory focused on how nurse can help their patients develop quick recovery by being active players in treatment and nursing process. According to Santerre and Vernon (2007), Nursing Need Theory has become a major concept used by nurses in their normal practice to empower patients to gain quick recovery by being active as much as possible. This will help the patient to gain physical and psychological strength to battle her health problem in the best way possible. In this paper, the researcher will focus on explaining Nursing Need Theory, its relevance to nurses, and how it is applied in the contemporary world of nursing.

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Defining the theory

Nursing Need Theory holds that patients always achieve speedy progress in hospitals if they make efforts to be independent. According to this theorist, the care offered by the nurses can never replace the personal effort that patients need to put when they are in the hospitals. The nurses can offer therapeutic care, but the will to achieve better health and proper stimulations of muscles within the body can only be achieved if individuals make personal efforts to be independent. This theory holds that being independent does not mean avoiding any help from the medical staff. It involves trying to do a number of things while in hospital such as trying to walk, engaging in healthy debates with colleagues, and other simple exercises that can stimulate the body.

Theorists Major Assumptions

When developing Nursing Need Theory, Virginia Henderson made a number of assumptions. The following are some of the underlying assumptions of this theory.

  1. Nurses will always care for their patients until such a time that the patient can be self-reliant.
  2. Patients always have a desire to regain their good health within the shortest period possible.
  3. The body and mind are inseparable

Theorists Metaparadigm

Nursing Need Theory has become one of the fundamental principles that nurses are now using in their practice. To understand the relevance of this theory, it will be necessary to explain the four metaparadigm concepts which are as follows.

Theorist’s definition of Nursing

Virginia Henderson had spent many years as a nurse educator when the developed this theory. According to Sojourner, Grabowski, Chen, and Town (2010), before developing the theory, Henderson started by defining nursing and making clear distinction between Medicine and Nursing as two interrelated but different disciplines. She defined nursing as “A unique function to assist an individual- sick or well- in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery” (Kumar, Norton, & Encinosa, 2006, p. 45). She went on to explain that the assistance of the nurse is needed in such cases when the individual lacks knowledge, strength, or will to perform these duties unaided. According to this theorist, the work of a nurse is to work with patients and help them on their way towards achieving independence. To her, a nurse must make sure that the patient is making personal effort to achieve the needed self-reliance. It is never anticipated- both by the patient and by the nurse- that the assistance offered to a patient by a nurse will last forever. Personal relationship may be retained, but the ultimate aim of a nurse and the patients is to empower the patients so that they can be independent.

Theorist’s definition of Person

Henderson defined a patient (person) as one who needs some form of nursing care to get relief. She argues that people need basic care as a component of health to achieve independence or have a peaceful death. Having emotional and psychological balance is of critical importance to an individual to achieve good health. For a patient to achieve bio-psychosocial satisfaction, he must participate in the process of achieving wellness by being psychophysically active. A patient must realize that the assigned nurse is only meant to create an enabling environment for them to achieve self-reliance. These individuals must, therefore, try to develop personal interest and make genuine efforts towards regaining their health. Henderson’s theory insists on the need for the patient to be active as much as possible. According to Dyess, Chase, and Newlin (2010), this is a matter of will. Having the will power to be active is very important to patients who are trying to overcome both physical and mental problems.

Theorist’s definition of Environment

The theorist believes that providing an enabling environment is very critical in ensuring that a patient regains good health within the shortest time possible. In her 14 principles provided in this theory, one of the most prominent issues that come out is the need to promote a healthy environment for a patient to achieve independence. She notes that both public and private healthcare institutions in the United States play an important role in ensuring that patients have enabling environment to recover. Patients who need to engage in simple exercise to achieve independence must be provided with a safe environment where they can exercise. This involves maintaining cleanliness of the environment and eliminating objects that may be a threat to them when they are walking around. For patients battling mental problems, an enabling environment would involve making it possible for them to engage in discussion with other society members who will reassure them that they are on their path to recovery. This will motivate them and make them feel that they are becoming normal. Different health complications may need different enabling environments. The focus should be to understand what individual patient needs and provide it in the best way possible.

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Theorist’s definition of Health

In this theory, Alligood (2014) says that health is defined as “The balance in all realms of human life.” In her 14 principles stated in the Nursing Need Theory, health is equated to ability for an individual to undertake activities without the need to be helped by a nurse. Good health is the primary goal of both a nurse and patients in their interaction. The patient seeks to gain freedom from pain, suffering, and discomfort and that is why the services of a nurse are needed. As the patient tries to regain independence, it is always necessary to help eliminate or reduce the magnitude of pain and discomfort. The nurse, therefore, will be trying to make the patients as comfortable as possible as he or she tries to make them self-reliant.

Example of a Research Study Based on Use of the Theory

Nursing Need Theory has attracted attention of many scholars who believe that it is one of the best theories that help nurses to understand what they should be doing when handling their patients. A research study by Dyess, Chase, and Newlin (2010) focused on the state of research for community health within the United States. The researchers were concerned that the changing role of nurses in the contemporary hospital setting may bring confusion about their real job description. Nurses are finding themselves in situation where they have to make critical decision about how to save the life of a patient. In the past, nurses had to receive most of the important instructions from the doctor. However, currently they are expected to work closely with the doctors and sometimes take necessary actions when there is an emergency.

These scholars found out that Nursing Need Theory is one of the modern principles of nursing that is very important in explaining what nurses should do when handling patients. In nursing homes or hospitals, patients tend to spend most of their time lying in bed because of their general body weakness, pain, discomfort, or lack of will to be active. However, this does very little in improving their condition. The only way through which they can achieve physical and psychological reprieve is when they are engaged in physical activities. However, this can only happen if they remain active in their respective institutions of care. In their study, Dyess, Chase, and Newlin (2010) note that Nursing Need Theory emphasizes on the need for the nurses to ensure that their patients remain as active as possible to achieve independence. Their study emphasizes on the clinical use of this theory to enhance patients’ quick recovery from their physical or psychological problem.

Theory’s Usefulness in the Real World

The Nursing Need Theory is a practical principle that the researcher finds to be very useful in a real world situation. This theory is simple and practicable in a nursing context. As Grabowski (2004) notes, there has been a misleading belief that nurses are supposed to ensure that all the needs of the patients, including those who are in the advanced stages of recovery, are fully met. Nurses are indeed responsible for the maximum care of the patients assigned to them. However, the patients themselves also have a major role to play to achieve quick recovery. For instance, a patient who is recovering from a broken leg will need assistance of the nurse. The patient may choose to lie in bed and wait for the nurse to do everything. That may be fun to the patient, but it will slow the recovery progress. This theory emphasizes that such a patient should make an effort to move around, starting with minor movements at first. The patient may spend most of the time practicing how to walk again. He or she may gradually develop the ability to go to the washroom without assistance of the nurse, and before long such a patient will be fully independent. It is important to note that this theory does not propose a situation where the burdens of the nurses are lessened by the patients. Nurses will still be responsible for giving these patients maximum care that is expected. The only difference is that the patients will be actively engaged in various activities that will hasten their physical and psychological improvements.

How the Theory is Relevant to Nursing Today

Nursing in the modern society is slowly transforming and the Nursing Need Theory has become very relevant to this field. The number of patients in most of the hospitals within the country is on the rise, and this means that nurses are under pressure to deliver value to their patients. This theory emphasizes on the need for the patients to be empowered as early as possible so that they can be semi-independent when they are in hospitals. This means that they will be able to undertake simple duties such as walking to the washroom, hence reducing the burden on the nurses. These nurses can then attend to other patients who also need care within the facility. Creating such a mutually beneficial environment helps all the stakeholders involved. However, care should be taken to ensure that patients are not strained as they struggle to achieve self-reliance.


Nursing scholars have tried to come up with theories that can make the work of nurses simple. One of the popular theories that are in use today is the Nursing Need Theory. It promotes self reliance among patients as a way of achieving quick recovery. It holds that when a patient is physically and mentally active, then the healing process is hastened. Patients who try to be independent while hospitalized tend to achieve quick recovery because the muscles and other body organs are kept active. The researcher finds this theory very relevant in the modern day nursing where the ratio of nurses to patients keeps dropping despite the effort by the government to increase the number of nurses.


Alligood, M. (2014). Nursing theorists and their work. St. Louis: Elsevier.

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Dyess, S., Chase, S., & Newlin, K. (2010). State of Research for Faith Community Nursing. Journal of Religion and Health, 49(2), 188–199.

Grabowski, D. C. (2004). The Admission of Blacks to High-Deficiency Nursing Homes. Medical Care, 42(5), 456–464.

Kumar, V., Norton, C., & Encinosa, W. (2006). OBRA 1987 and the Quality of Nursing Home Care. International Journal of Health Care Finance and Economics, 6(1), 49–81.

Santerre, R. E., & Vernon, J. A. (2007). Ownership Form and Consumer Welfare: Evidence from the Nursing Home Industry. Inquiry, 44(4), 381–399.

Sojourner, A., Grabowski, C., Chen, M., & Town, R. J. (2010). Trends in Unionization of Nursing Homes. Inquiry, 47(4), 331–342.

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