Nursing Paper Example: Nightingale and Henderson Nursing Theories

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Vanderbilt University
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Often, professional nurses do not think in terms of theory. However, theories are crucial in nursing. Among other contributions, theories help in interpreting concepts resulting in multiple ways of looking at a particular phenomenon. Consequently, it opens room for multiple solutions to nursing problems. Nursing theories also guide and improve practice. In appreciating the role of theories in nursing practice, the paper takes a deeper look at Florence Nightingale and Virginia Henderson nursing theories; how each addresses nursing, person, environment, health and illness and how their theories apply to nursing practice today.

Nightingale is known as the founder of modern nursing and the first nursing theorist. In her theory, Nightingale explains that the environment is the single most important aspect of nursing. She explains that nursing ought to signify the appropriate use of light, fresh air, warmth, quiet, cleanliness and appropriate administration of diet to the patient with least expenses but with a vital power to the patient (Nightingale, 1992). According to her, nursing is a product of environmental alteration. Environment plays a significant role in health, and as such, the nurse should manipulate the surrounding to promote patient recovery. She concludes that nurses should be skillful, meaning they should be trained and educated and should perceive nursing as an art and science.

On the other hand, Henderson coined the nursing Need Theory. She emphasizes the importance of focusing on patient independence in the process of recovery so that he or she can easily assume autonomy after hospitalization (Alligood, 2014). She classified nursing activities into fourteen components in line with human needs. The nurses should assist individuals in the performance of activities that the patient would do if he or she was well and such activities should help towards recovery. She wraps up by stating that as the nurses help the patient through the fourteen activities, the nurse's role ought to be substitutive, supplementary and complementary.

Both Nightingale and Henderson addressed differently nursing, person, environment and illness. According to Nightingale, nursing differs from medicine, and its main goal is to place the patient in best possible condition for nature to act upon him or her. Nursing is simply the activities that promote health, and they occur in a caregiving situation (Nightingale, 1992). Also, the person, according to her, is multidimensional comprising of biological, physiological, social and spiritual aspects. The environment should be altered to incorporate favorable conditions that natural laws allow healing to take part. She states that poor and difficult environments lead to poor health and disease. According to her, illness is as a result of poor and difficult environment.

On the other hand, Henderson says that nursing is about temporarily assisting the patient who lacks required strength, will, and knowledge to undertake the fourteen basic needs. Nursing is about assisting individuals to attain independence through recovery. According to her, the person has basic needs which are component to health. An individual needs assistance to attain health and independence or peaceful death. She describes the environment as setting that aids individuals in learning unique patterns of living. The environment comprises of external influences and conditions that affect life and development. Illness is when an individual is unable to function independently and cannot help out with the fourteen components.

Nightingale and Henderson's theories are highly applicable in the current nursing practice. Nightingale theory is applied in charging the nurse with the responsibility of putting the patient in best conditions upon which nature can act. Nurses should create a favorable environment for the patient recovery with minimal noise and anxiety. Similarly, Henderson's theory serves as a guide to the nurses in providing necessary assistance to the patient to achieve autonomy as he or she recovers. Henderson's theory establishes the basis upon which the nursing assistance is provided to the patient to help in meeting basic needs which are part of recovery to independence or healing.



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

Nightingale, F. (1992). Notes on nursing: What it is, and what it is not. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Nursing research articles, theories, reviews, education, administration, psychiatric nursing, MCQs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2017, from


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