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Dorothea Orem’s Self-Care Deficit Theory


In the variety of nursing theories, Orem’s theory of self-care deficit occupies a significant place. With its clear-cut objectives and definitions, the theory is easy to understand and implement. In her work, the theorist explains the importance of self-care for patients during and after an illness. The core concepts of the theory have not lost their actuality even now.

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Orem’s self-care deficit theory of nursing consists of three interconnected theories: the theory of self-care, the self-care deficit theory, and the theory of nursing systems (“The self-care,” 2011). The main assumptions of the theory are:

  • people constantly interact with others to obtain a possibility for normal living and functioning;
  • individuals need to be accountable for their care as well of other family members;
  • self-care promotion is easier to implement if people know about the potential health hazards;
  • the socio-cultural background is responsible for individuals’ dependent care and self-care conduct (“Self-care deficit,” 2016).

The main concepts of the self-care deficit theory are nursing, health, environment, humans, self-care, self-care agency, self-care deficit, therapeutic self-care demand, basic conditioning factors, nursing system, and nursing agency (“The self-care,” 2011). The first four concepts are related as they form the basis for the theory. The nursing system incorporates the relations between people. Self-care demand connects the necessary self-care actions to meet the needs of a deficit. Basic conditioning factors impact other concepts as they delineate the elements of the healthcare system which take part in the theory.

Origins of the Theory

In the period when Dorothea Orem was creating her theory, the general hospitals lacked qualified nursing care. Therefore, the scholar decided that changes were needed to enhance the level of nursing care. In support of her theory, Orem cited the values of family relations and people’s interconnection. She was convinced that people should help one another on the way of building up a healthy community.

In her theory, Orem specified when nursing is needed and what it is. She was motivated by the desire to make nursing knowledge more accessible and to help the individuals take care of themselves and their close people. The approach to theory development used by the theorist is a conceptual model.


The theory is useful in nursing practice due to its accessibility and clarity. It is helpful to nursing because it teaches the basics of self-care along with the fundamentals of looking after ill people. The theory helps in understanding the needs of patients and in predicting the outcomes of nursing care.

Orem’s theory could be applied in a case study on patients with rheumatoid arthritis about self-care options. Patients can be instructed about the possible options for a care plan. Also, the family members can be taught how to provide help and care for the individuals who cannot cope with their problems.

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Theory’s testability is checked via applying it at hospital conditions and checking its effectiveness. The theory has generated a lot of research. Many studies are dedicated to the evaluation of the theory’s application in certain medical conditions. For instance, research by Timmins and Horan (2007) aimed at identifying the potential contribution of Orem’s theory to contemporary coronary care nursing practice.

An example of a recent study done using Orem’s theory is a study by Hashemi et al. (2014). In their research, the scholars investigated the impact of Orem’s theory on the life quality of burn patients at Ghotb-al-Din-e-Shirazi Burn Center in Iran.

Orem’s theory is a proposition of policy. In her theory, she suggests people to learn how to take care of individuals and suggests steps in which the process of learning can be performed.

Overall Evaluation

Orem’s theory is comprehensive and specific. It is general enough. It presents the key notions in a clear way. The theory has the following strengths:

  • the main advantage is that it can be used by nursing practitioners at all levels;
  • the key concepts of the theory are easy to comprehend for the students at the starting level and can be further scrutinized when the nurse becomes more experienced;
  • Orem precisely delineates in what cases nursing is necessary; she explains that it is needed when a person is unable to take care of him/herself during or after an illness;
  • three recognizable nursing systems are distinctly outlined and are easy to comprehend (“The self-care,” 2011).

The theory also has some weaknesses:

  • the theory is clear and at the same time complicated; the existence of too many terms may get the readers disoriented;
  • there is not enough explanation of people’s emotional needs in the theory;
  • theorist’s health definition signifies rigidity as she encloses it in three various static conditions, which she calls “concrete nursing system” (“The self-care,” 2011).

Despite the theory’s limitations, its benefits are evident. I think I would apply it in my nursing practice as its concepts and assumptions are aimed at the improvement of people’s healthcare.


Dorothea Orem’s theory is a great contribution to the nursing care process. In simple terms, she explains the need for proper care of sick individuals by nurses and family members. Despite some disadvantages, Orem’s theory is widely employed in nursing practice.

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Hashemi, F., Dolatabad, F. R., Yektatalab, S., Ayaz, M., Zare, N., & Mansouri, P. (2014). Effect of Orem Self-care program on the life quality of burn patients referred to Ghotb-al-Din-e-Shirazi Burn Center, Shiraz, Iran: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery, 2(1), 40-50.

Self-care deficit theory. (2016). Web.

The self-care deficit nursing theory. (2011). Web.

Timmins, F., & Horan, P. (2007). A critical analysis of the potential contribution of Orem’s (2001) self-care deficit nursing theory to contemporary coronary care nursing practice. European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 6(1), 32-39.

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"Dorothea Orem's Self-Care Deficit Theory." StudyCorgi, 19 Feb. 2021,

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Dorothea Orem's Self-Care Deficit Theory." February 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Dorothea Orem's Self-Care Deficit Theory'. 19 February.

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