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Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory in Nursing


The use of nursing theories in the clinical nursing environment varies significantly depending on the context. However, all such theories are targeted at achieving high levels of care for patients regardless of who they are and what is their background. For the purpose of the current discussion, it was chosen to focus on Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory that developed to enhance the level of patients’ independence to ensure that the post-hospitalization recovery process is occurring smoothly.

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The discussion will be divided into the exploration of the theorist’s background, the analysis of the main components of the theory, as well as the evaluation of its relevance to the nursing practice. While there is a range of various theories that support nurses’ care choices and methods, understanding Henderson’s Need Theory will facilitate the enhancement of care for patients due to its universal nature, simplicity, and the positive outlook on nursing care.

Born on November 30, 1897, Virginia Henderson pioneered the idea of needs-based nursing. After moving from Kansas City, state Missouri, to Washington D.C., Henderson enrolled into the Army School of Nursing (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015). Henderson worked in the nursing setting at the Henry Street Visiting facility after graduating university in 1921. In 1923, Henderson began her scholarly career by becoming a teacher at the Norfolk Protestant Hospital in Virginia (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015).

In 1932, studying at the Teachers College at Columbia University earned Henderson a Bachelor’s Degree, which in 1934 was followed by a Master’s degree. Her career processed with becoming a representative of the Columbia University faculty and worked there until 1948. Later, the Yale University School of Nursing offered Henderson the opportunity to become a research associate, which she accepted to build her knowledge further.

The scholar is fully relevant, given the immense contribution that she made to nursing theory. Having received multiple recognitions and acclaims from numerous educational institutions, including the Honorary doctoral degrees, Henderson became an unparalleled expert in nursing. Henderson also worked on correcting and editing Harmer’s classic nursing guide, as well as incorporated her own definitions. She died on March 19, 1996 (George, 2011).

Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory

The Need Theory was developed for defining the specific focus of nursing as a practice on patients’ needs. It is concerned with increasing the independence of patients within the process of care, especially after being discharged from hospitals. The theory underlines the importance of addressing human needs and what part should nurses play in terms of addressing those needs (Nicely & DeLario, 2011). According to Henderson’s perspective, the definition of nursing is considered a “concept,” with nursing activities differentiated into fourteen constituents that are linked to the needs of their patients (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015).

The theorist described the role of health practitioners are substitutive, complementary, and supplementary, all of which were targeted at helping patients become as independent as possible. Within the substitutive role, nurses should perform some tasks instead of their patients (Maier, Köppen, Busse, & MUNROS Team, 2018). In the complementary role, healthcare practitioners are expected to work with their patients to develop effective strategies for overcoming their healthcare risks and challenges. In the supplementary role, nurses help their patients to become independent and make informed decisions associated with increasing their health outcomes.

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Henderson defined the concept of nursing as a unique combination of responsibilities that a nurse has to fulfil in order to cater to the needs of an individual so that health-related needs thereof could be met and that their recovery process could be facilitated (Henderson, 1966). Simultaneously, a nurse has to ensure that the process of patient education is launched and implemented accordingly (Henderson, 1966).

This definition shows that in her theory, Virginia Henderson paid the majority of attention to individual care. The role of nurses is to help patients perform essential activities for health maintenance, recovery, and the achievement of a peaceful death. The fourteen components developed by Henderson are considered crucial for reaching a high level of care quality and ensuring that patients develop a sense of independence when addressing their health challenges.

The Relevance of the Model

The relevance of Henderson’s model lies in the recommendations that the theorists made to enhance the quality of care for patients as well as promote their autonomy. The first nine components related to effective nursing care are physiological and include recommendations on breathing, nutrition and hydration, body waste, posture, rest and sleep, comfortable items to wear, body temperature, hygiene and grooming, as well as safe environments.

The tenth and fourteenth components are related to patients’ psychology, suggesting to communicate with others and express emotions as well as satisfy one’s sense of inquiry that leads to positive health and overall development. The eleventh component is associated with the need for patients to seek spiritual support in one’s religious practices (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015). The remaining components are focused on the social aspect of patients’ lives as well as their recreational and occupational practices.

Therefore, Henderson perceived the process of nursing as dynamic and such that applies a logical approach to problem-solving. As mentioned by George (2011), the process of nursing is made up of six key components that include assessment of a patient’s health status, “nursing diagnosis, outcome, planning, implementation, and evaluation” (p. 15). The theory is flexible and can be used by nurses in multiple care settings, adapting the model to the needs of each patient separately.

The value of Henderson’s theory lies in the idea that patients have to be taught how to gain independence and care for themselves within the recovery process. Since all patients desire to become healthy, nurses play the role of facilitators and assistants and devote their practice to addressing patients’ needs (Davoodvand, Abbaszadeh, & Ahmadi, 2016).

Also, it is assumed that nursing practitioners should attain education at the required quality level in both as a scientific process and an art form, which points to Henderson’s interest in scholarship and the development of nursing as both science and art. It is important to mention that the components of the model are interrelated since all of them are targeted at addressing human needs and reaching positive health outcomes. In addition, the model overall is both simple and generalizable, which means that it can be applicable to the needs of patients belonging to any age group and gender.

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To conclude, while there is a lack of conceptual connections between physiological, physiological, and cultural characteristics within the model, the Need Theory can be successfully used by practitioners for guiding and improving their practice. The emphasis on key health-related needs since the main orientation of nursing as a nursing practice has caused the subsequent development of theories associated with the role of nurses in assisting patients to meet their needs. Within the model, the considerations of individual needs, the environment, health, and the practice of nursing are intertwined to ensure that health practitioners have a full set of tools to address the range of care issues.


Ahtisham, Y., & Jacoline, S. (2015). Integrating nursing theory and process into practice; Virginia’s Henderson need theory. International Journal of Caring Sciences, 8(2), 443-450.

Davoodvand, S., Abbaszadeh, A., & Ahmadi, F. (2016). Patient advocacy from the clinical nurses’ viewpoint: A qualitative study. Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, 9, 5.

George J. B. (2011). Nursing theories – The base for professional nursing practice (5th ed.), Norwalk, CT: Appleton & Lange.

Henderson, V. (1966). The nature of nursing: A definition and its implications for practice, research, and education. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing.

Maier, C., Köppen J., Busse,R., & MUNROS Team. (2018). Task shifting between physicians and nurses in acute care hospitals: Cross-sectional study in nine countries. Human Resources Health, 16(1), 24.

Nicely, B., & DeLario, G. (2011). Virginia Henderson’s principles and practice of nursing applied to organ donation after brain death. Progress in Transplantation, 21(1), 72-77.

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