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Overview of Nurse Theorist

Virginia Henderson's Definition of Nursing


In 1966 Virginia Henderson formulated a definition of the unique function of nursing. This definition was a major stepping-stone in the emergence of nursing as a discipline separate from medicine. Like Nightingale, Henderson described nursing in relation to the patient and the patient's environment. Unlike Nightingale, Henderson saw the nurse as concerned with both well and ill individuals, acknowledged that nurses interact with patients even when recovery may not be feasible, and mentioned the teaching and advocacy roles of the nurse.

Henderson conceptualized the nurse's role as assisting sick or well individuals to gain independence in meeting 14 fundamental needs:

  1. Breathing normally.
  2. Eating and drinking adequately.
  3. Eliminating body wastes.
  4. Moving and maintaining a desirable position.
  5. Sleeping and resting.
  6. Selecting suitable clothes.
  7. Maintaining body temperature within normal range by adjusting clothing and modifying the environment.
  8. Keeping the body clean and well-groomed to protect the integument.
  9. Avoiding dangers in the environment and avoiding injuring others.
  10. Communicating with others in expressing emotions, needs, fears or opinions.
  11. Worshipping according to one's faith.
  12. Working in such a way that one feels a sense of accomplishment.
  13. Playing or participating in various forms of recreation.
  14. Learning, discovering, or satisfying the curiosity that leads to normal development and health, and using available health facilities.

Henderson has published many works and continues to be cited in current nursing literature. Her emphasis on the importance of nursing's independence from, and interdependence with, other health care disciplines is well recognized.

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This page was last modified on 6/1/02