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Background of Virginia Henderson


Demonstrate and Analysis of the Literature Specific to the Chosen Theory.

Virginia was born and raised in the Kansas City, Missouri, in the year 1963. She was known as the Modern-Day Mother of Nursing, and she acquired the title of the Nightingale of modern nursing. She joined the Army School of Nursing in 1921 at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. to pursue a diploma in Nursing. After completion of her college studies, she was absorbed to work at the Henry Street Visiting Service. She worked for a maximum of two years immediately after graduation, and later on, she proceeded to teach nursing at the Norfolk Protestant Hospital in Virginia. In 1929, Virginia Henderson enrolled for a bachelor’s degree at Teachers College at the Columbia University and graduated in 1932. Still, in the same institution, she graduated with a master’s degree in the year 1934. She became an associate researcher at the Yale University School of Nursing in 1953 (Boittin, Lagoutte, & Lantz, 2002). Virginia was awarded several honorary doctoral degrees from different universities like; the Catholic University of America, University of Western Ontario among many others. She passed on in 1996. In this essay paper, I shall explain the reasons for choosing the theorist Virginia, discuss her theory and how it applies in the contemporary nursing practice.

Virginia was a dedicated and determined scholar, who had made great miles in seeing that nursing revolutionized and modernized. Thus, known as a Mother-Day Modern Nursing. She proved her passion for improving nursing through her hard work. After her first diploma degree, she did not just relax there now that she got absorbed immediately after university. After a short duration of practicing she realized that more was required to be done so that in the future nursing students do not find it difficult to relate theoretical work with real field nursing practice. She proceeded to do her degree and masters. Virginia brought to existence “The Need Theory” based on the interrelationship between concepts and the real human needs (George, 2011). Also, I chose her because she dwelt most of the time in improving the quality of nursing. For instance, she did revise the 4th edition of Harmer’s classic textbook of nursing in 1939, and later she authored the 5th edition and incorporated her personal definition of nursing in 1991.

Virginia Henderson firmly held that her definition of nursing was her Concept and stressed on the significance of increasing the patient’s independence to ensure that progress curtained after being admitted (Henderson, 1966). Furthermore, she went ahead and divided nursing activities into a total of fourteen components all of which centered on the human needs. She gave a nurse’s role a description as a substitute, supplement and a complement with the main objective of assisting the patient until she/he becomes independent (McEwen & Wills, 2002). Virginia had defined nursing as the unique function which a nurse does to help an individual who is sick or well, or in the peaceful death process. She went ahead and proposed that the fourteen components are essential to promote effective care in nursing. Amongst the fourteen elements, the first nine are physiological; the tenth and fourteenth are the psychological aspects of communication and learning process. Finally, the twelfth element and thirteenth are both sociological and aligned to the occupation and recreation.

The Need Theory and its components

components necessary for effective nursing care

Normal breathing.

Take adequate meals and drinks per day.

Elimination of body wastes.

Movement and maintenance of desirable body fitness.

Enough sleep and rest.

Suitability in clothing.

Maintenance of the body temperature in the ordinary range through adjustments on the clothing and environmental modification.

Keeping the body clean and well-groomed at all times and the integument protected.

Be careful in the environment to avoid dangers and be mindful of others not to injure them.

Effective communication with others to share and express one’s emotions, needs, the fears or own opinions.

Freedom of worship as per one’s faith.

Work towards accomplishing set goals.

Undertake recreational exercises and activities.

Making innovations and inventions towards the healthy development and advancing health and the utilization of available health resources.

The Need theory which was developed by Virginia upholds important assumptions. Nurses play a vital role in the caring of patients until the patient regain and be at the position to take care of him/herself once again. All of the patients desire to get well soon and resume their normal life. Nurses show devotion towards improving the health condition of the patient both day and night (Bradshaw, 1995). Finally, nurses should get an opportunity to undertake university studies in both arts and sciences. If such opportunities arise, nurses will acquire a wider field of knowledge which shall assist them to improve their nursing qualities. For example, if nurses are equipped well with information technology, they will be in a good position to share ideas and concepts digitally, undertake modernized research and discover any advancements in nursing care from the entire world through the internet.

Virginia applied four concepts which broadly covers the Need Theory concerning the human needs. To start with, she used the individual concept to come up with the theory. In the individual concept, she briefly highlights that she had basic needs such as that of clothing, shelter, and food that are crucial components of good health. She went ahead and stated that as a human being requires the fundamental needs and passionate assistance in the process of getting good health care and independence (Virginia, 1997). She further argues that the body and mind cannot be separated and the two are interrelated in many ways. She concludes by saying that theory views the patient as a combination of parts with the biological, psychological, sociological, and the spiritual needs.

Similarly, she used the environmental concept in which person lives and is surrounded by other components including families. She focuses on the interrelations between an individual and the families. Furthermore, she puts into consideration all the conditions both external and internal that affects the ways of life and, its growth and development (Butts & Rich, 2013). Briefly, she gives a discussion on the community impact on the relationship of an individual with his/her family members. She concludes and states that a community greatly influences the life of a person through various ways such as moral and support, advise, care and consolation during difficult times.

Application of the Need Theory in contemporary nursing practice

Additionally, Virginia applied the health concept in elaborating how her theory covered regarding fundamental human needs. She stresses that nurses should be at the forefront leading health promotion campaigns and advising the masses to take precaution, prevention, and cure. She says that prevention is better than cure (Association, 2010). She concludes on the concept by arguing that good health should be a taken as a challenge which affects all people.

Besides, Virginia applied the concept of nursing which involves the provision of nursing care to an individual who is weak and unable to perform the fourteen needs. She says that through nursing an individual is assisted and given adequate support in meeting his/her life needs and performing the activities until the time he//she regains independence. Nurses aid to make the patient feel like a complete, whole or an independent person (Fulton, 1987). As per the concept, many expectations are put on the nurse to conduct the physician’s therapeutic focus nursing care plan for an individual. The nurse is strictly required to have skills and knowledge in the practice of nursing care as per the professional code of conduct and nursing standards and ethics. 

The Need Theory has distinctive features which include; the interrelation of bio-physiology, culture, and interaction- communication concepts for the fundamental human needs. She had borrowed all these concepts from different disciplines such as that of Maslow’s theory. The definition of nursing and components brought forward by Virginia are quite logical, and all the fourteen elements give a clear guideline to the individual and the nurse in achieving set goals (Thorne & Hayes, 1996). The theory is quite simple and can be easily generalized. Furthermore, the approach applies to the health of all individuals cutting across the different ages, race and cultural background. Also, the theory forms the basis for hypotheses testing, assists in the provision of broad knowledge and skills within the nursing discipline. Finally, the theory ideas were fully accepted and implemented in the nursing practice.

The theory fails to show clearly the connection between physiological features and the other human characteristics (Henderson V. , 1987). Additionally, there is no concept of the holistic nature of the human being. Furthermore, the assumption placed to prioritize the fourteen components fails to uphold its clarity. Virginia says that a nurse assists the patient in the dying process but she fails to disclose how the nurse should do that, and also, peaceful death is just a curious and a significant role played by a nurse. Last but not least, the theory fails to outline the inter-relationships of factors and its influence in nursing care.

In the current nursing practice, the Need theory can be applied effectively for the improvement and hastening of the condition of a patient in a hospital. For instance, let us focus on a case scenario in which a patient is suffering from a disease with breathing difficulties; John, 32 years old in a male ward. I as the nurse on duty have visited his room, made some observations and then struck a conversation with him. As we continue talking, I realize that the patient is having difficulties in sitting properly and struggles to speak. He opens up to me and shares his longtime smoking act. He says that per day he used to smoke two to three packs of cigarette. Further, he says that there is increased amount of a thick yellow sputum when he coughs, loss of appetite and unable to swallow due to persistent coughing and difficulties in breathing. In the room the patient is with his wife and three children, the windows are closed maybe due to fear that dust from outside would increase the breathing difficulties, the patient is on oxygen supply through the nose prongs. Also, inside the room, the door to the toilet is partially open, and I can see by a glance used tissues heaped together, toilet and room are untidy.

Assumptions of the Need Theory

As a nurse, I would apply the need theory in advising the patient and family members to have windows remain open for free air circulation. Through doing so, the patient shall get air to improve her condition and the lower the risk of other members being sick (Boge, Kristoffersen, & Martinsen, 2013). Shall have the toilet and room cleaned so that the patient lives in a clean room as per the concept of environment. I shall also advise the family to make food preferences suitable for the patient and provide them at the right time and remove such meals at the right time whether consumed or unconsumed.


It is evident that the Need Theory advanced by Virginia Henderson adds skills and knowledge to nursing practitioners. The skills acquired are applied in the nursing care to improve the condition and hasten the healing of patients. Virginia used her real-life nursing needs to develop her theory. Based on the human needs, she constituted four concepts which she applied in the coverage of her theory. Such concepts include; individual, environmental, health and nursing concepts. Virginia divided nursing activities into fourteen components with an aim to improve nursing care for patients based on the human needs. The theory highly recommends for creating awareness in the community and hospital level on the need for environmental hygiene. She stressed that with high hygienic standards such as living in clean environment would act as a prevention against diseases. Virginia in her work, she came up with four assumptions in which she assumed that nurses do play a major role in the nursing care for patients. Furthermore, she assumed that if nurses get an opportunity they should study both arts and sciences, and on top be taught technology so as to enable in acquiring broad knowledge and skills in their practice field. Technology would enable the nurses to do research and come with innovations to advance nursing practice. Also, she assumed that all patients would get well soon or face death peacefully. Regardless, of the few shortcomings mentioned, the Need Theory is quite applicable in real nursing practice and impacts positively the nursing care career.


Henderson, V. A. (1980). Preserving the essence of nursing in a technological age. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 5(3), 245-260.

Henderson, V. (2006). The concept of nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53(1), 21-31.

Henderson, V. (1987). Nursing process-a critique. Holistic nursing practice, 1(3), 7-18.

Boge, J., Kristoffersen, K., & Martinsen, K. (2013). Bodily cleanliness in modern nursing. Nursing Philosophy, 14(2), 78-85.

Alligood, M. R. (2014). Nursing theorists and their work. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Henderson, V. (2004). ICN basic principles of nursing care. International council of nurses.

Henderson, V., & Halloran, E. J. (1995). A Virginia Henderson Reader Excellence in Nursing.

Fulton, J. S. (1987). Virginia Henderson: theorist, prophet, poet. Advances in Nursing science, 10(1), 1-9.

George, J. B. (2011). Nursing Theories: The Base for Professional Nursing Practice, 6/e. Pearson Education India.

McEwen, M., & Wills, E. M. (2002). Theoretical basis for nursing.

Henderson, V. A. (1980). Preserving the essence of nursing in a technological age. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 5(3), 245-260.

Gillette, V. A. (1996). Applying nursing theory to perioperative nursing practice. AORN journal, 64(2), 261-270.

Henderson, V. (1966). The Nature of Nursing a Definition and its Implications for Practice, Research, and Education.

Thorne, S. E., & Hayes, V. E. (1996). Nursing praxis: Knowledge and action. Sage.

Fulton, J. S. (1987). Virginia Henderson: theorist, prophet, poet. Advances in Nursing science, 10(1), 1-9.

American Nurses Association. (2010). Nursing's social policy statement: The essence of the profession. Nursesbooks. org.

Boittin, I., Lagoutte, M., & Lantz, M. C. (2002). Virginia Henderson: 1897-1996. Biography and analysis of her work.

Virginia Henderson. (1997). Basic principles of nursing care. Amer Nurses Pub.

Bradshaw, A. (1995). What are nurses doing to patients? A review of theories of nursing past and present. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 4(2), 81-92.

Butts, J. B., & Rich, K. L. (2013). Philosophies and theories for advanced nursing practice. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

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