The Self-Care Deficit Theory of Nursing


This paper studies one of the most practiced nursing theories, the self-care deficit theory introduced by Dorothea Omen. The review explains its meaning and origins, providing insight into its ideas and purposes. The paper also revises its usefulness and testability, presenting an example of the study based on the theory. Finally, the review is concluded by an evaluation of Orem’s theory.

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The Meaning of the Theory

Currently, the self-care deficit nursing theory is one of the most widely used approaches to patient care. It was developed by Orem in 1959 (Berbiglia, 2013). The theory is based on the idea that patients want to care for themselves and that they can recover faster if allowed to perform self-care in addition to professional assistance. It represents nursing through three interrelated concepts (Berbiglia & Banfield, 2018):

  1. The self-care concept that explains how and for what reasons individuals perform self-care. It also includes the dependent-care theory that describes how people receive dependent-care from their family members or friends.
  2. The self-care deficit concept shows how nursing can help individuals.
  3. The nursing systems concept that presents a relationship model that nurses need to establish to perform medical care.

The first component of Orem’s theory defines the self-care activities that individuals practice to maintain their health, high quality of life, well-being, and personal development. They do so by deliberately learning and following known requirements for health regulations. The dependent-care concept is related to care provided to people that are unable to take care of themselves and maintain their health. The second component explains that individuals require nurses’ assistance because they are unable to perform self-care due to their limitations. Finally, the third concept concerns the patients’ demands and how nurses need to adjust their care methods to meet them.

These components of the theory are related in the following way. Individuals should meet their healthcare demands to maintain their well-being. If they fail to manage it using their resources, they can seek nurses’ assistance. Nurses help patients meet their needs by choosing the most appropriate methods of self-care considering individuals’ abilities.

The Origins of the Theory

Orem developed the theory during her career as a nurse at the Division of Hospital and Institutional Services of the Indiana State Board of Health in 1949-1957 (Berbiglia & Banfield, 2018). Her goal was to improve the quality of nursing care she evidenced in hospitals. By developing her theory, Orem wanted to address the subject matter of nursing.

Orem’s concepts promoted the following values. She viewed nursing as a form of action. In her opinion, establishing interaction between medical professionals and patients, or individuals and their family members, is a key aspect of nurses’ work. In her theory, Orem used the conceptualization approach, describing the distinct features of the nursing service.

The Usefulness of the Theory

Orem’s ideas are useful in practice due to several reasons. Her theory is presented in a limited number of terms that are consistently used to express its concepts and are precisely defined. To understand the concepts, nurses only require basic knowledge of the terminology that Orem presents in detail.

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Berbiglia and Banfield (2018) refer to a case study that used the dependent-care component as a part of Orem’s self-care deficit theory. The case study describes an elderly couple, Dan and Jane. Ben becomes ill and cannot take care of himself anymore, which means he does not meet his therapeutic self-care demands. Jane provides care for him, for which she has to sacrifice her hobbies. Orem’s theory suggests that Jane needs to develop a nursing system that considers her lack of self-care activities, as she becomes a dependent-care provider for Dan. The self-care concept describes why the woman needs to take care of herself while maintaining her husband’s health.


The theory is highly testable as it has clear ideas and objectives and does not require specific preliminary education. It was first tested by the Nursing Development Conference Group, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Mississipi Methodist Hospital and became one of the most commonly used nursing theories (Berbiglia, 2013). Orem’s work has been utilized in many studies. For example, Hashemi et al. (2014) used this approach to examine how its concepts can have an impact on burn patients’ quality of life. The researchers provided self-care promoting activities and adjusted caring methods according to patients’ demands. The study’s results show that two months of self-care improved patients’ perspectives of their well-being from 73% up to 98% (Hashemi et al., 2014). Authors suggest that developing care methods that address individuals’ needs is necessary for treatment programs’ efficiency.


The theory is simple but is presented in a way that nurses can apply it to a wide variety of patients. The suggested model offers three different perspectives regarding the phenomenon of self-care in nursing. Orem’s theory is accessible as it explains why nursing is an essential part of patients’ care. I believe that the theory is general as it represents a combination of features common to all aspects of nursing. In my opinion, its strong points are its simplicity and availability, as well as its usefulness, is proven by many years of practice. The only weak point is that the concepts Orem uses are unique and cannot be studied in depth outside of her theory. However, I think that the scientist’s approach to explaining her ideas provides a clear and sufficient understanding of the theory of self-care deficit. I would use this theory in my advanced practice as many medical institutions successfully implement its ideas. Considering that patients’ recovery requires a self-care element, it appears reasonable to utilize Orem’s concepts in my work.


Orem has made a valuable contribution to nursing by developing her theory of self-care deficit. Its concepts underline the importance of self-care in patients’ recovery and sustaining their quality of life. Nurses’ role in this process is to consider individuals’ needs and adjust their methods of treatment according to them. Currently, the theory is widely used in medical practices, providing promising results.


Berbiglia, V. A., & Banfield, B. (2018). In M.R. Alligood (Ed.), Nursing theorists and their work (pp.198-212). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Berbiglia, V. A. (2013). Orem’s self-care deficit theory in nursing practice. In M.R. Alligood (Ed.), Nursing Theory: Utilization & application (pp. 222-244). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

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.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, July 21). The Self-Care Deficit Theory of Nursing. Retrieved from

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