Virginia Henderson developed the nursing need theory to define the unique focus of nursing practice. Ideally, this theory focuses on increasing patients’ independence to ensure that the progress after hospitalization is not delayed. 

We have compiled a comprehensive guideline to help you understand more about Henderson’s nursing need theory and its impact on nursing practice. Specifically, it will look into the background, nursing metaparadigm,  assumptions, components, and relevance of the Henderson nursing theory. 

Background of the Nursing Need Theory

Virginia Henderson was a nurse theorist and an author who defined nursing as a unique function where nurses assist individuals in activities that contribute to health and recovery. In this theory, Virginia believes that increasing patients’ independence would help improve progress by highlighting basic human needs and how nurses can help meet these needs.

Virginia claims that nurses have a primary independent role of helping a patient who lacks knowledge, physical strength, and will to act for themselves as they would when they were in good health. in this case, nursing is a complex and creative function that offers health providers with unlimited opportunity to apply biological, physical and social sciences and develop skills based on them.

 Assumptions of the Nursing Need Theory

 Henderson’s nursing theory makes the following assumptions

  •  Nurses care for patients until they can care for themselves once again.
  •  Patients often desire to return to good health.
  •  The mind and body are inseparable and interrelated.
  •  Nurses are willing to serve patients at all times.

 Major Concepts of the Nursing Need Theory.

Virginia Henderson’s nursing need theory includes the following nursing metaparadigms


Ideally, individuals have basic health needs. However, they need assistance to achieve health, independence, or even a peaceful death. In this case, an individual feels complete and achieves wholeness by maintaining an emotional and physiological balance.

An individual, in this case, is a patient who needs nursing care to help them achieve optimal health. Additionally, a patient is a summation of the mind and body and biopsychosocial needs, which are often interrelated and inseparable.


Handerson identifies that a supportive environment is essential in promoting individual health. Therefore, the private and public health sectors have a pivotal role in ensuring that society remains healthy. 


Although the theory does not explicitly defines this concept, Handerson believes that health can only be achieved by balancing all notions of human life. In this regard, health is completed following the independence and ability to perform activities without the aid of nursing personnel.

However, nurses are vital in promoting health and preventing illnesses. Henderson believes that health is a challenge as it is mainly affected by several factors, including cultural background, emotional balance, and age.


According to Henderson, nursing is a unique function where nurses assist an individual who is either sick or well in performing activities that may contribute to health or recovery. In this case, nurses provide the appropriate care that individuals would have achieved if they had the strength, will, or knowledge.

Nonetheless, nurses should perform these actions to help them achieve independence as rapidly as possible, ensuring that patients can perform these activities without external help. Nurses aim to make patients whole, complete, and independent.

Handerson’s definition of nursing helps to identify the role of nurses in healthcare which is to use their creativity to provide individualized care that promotes positive health outcomes. They should be independent practitioners who can make independent judgments by assessing the patient’s needs and helping them meet these needs. Nonetheless, they should provide an environment that allows the patients to perform these actions unaided to promote positive health outcomes.

Components of the Nursing Need Theory

Virginia Henderson identified 14 components of the nursing need theory to show a holistic nursing approach that covers psychological, physiological, spiritual, and social needs. These components include,

Physiological components 

  1. Normal breath.
  2. Eat and drink adequately.
  3. Eliminate body waste.
  4. Sleep and rest.
  5. Move and maintain desirable postures.
  6. Maintain a normal range of body temperature through environmental modification and clothing.
  7. Select suitable clothes; dress and undress.
  8. Keep the body clean and well-groomed.
  9. Avoid the dangers and the environment or injuring others.

Psychological components

  1. Communicate emotions, needs, fears, and opinions.
  2. Learn and satisfy curiosity which leads to healthy development and use the available health facilities.

Spiritual component

  1. Worship according to one’s faith.

Sociological components 

  1. Participate in recreational activities
  2. Work to provide a sense of accomplishment

Relevance of the Nursing Need Theory

The relevance of Handerson’s nursing theory lies in its ability to enhance the quality of care for patients and promote autonomy. In this case, the theory defines nursing as a dynamic process that applies a logical problem-solving approach.

Nursing comprises six processes: diagnosis, outcome, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Therefore, this theory is flexible and can be applied by nurses across multiple care settings to ensure that they meet the needs of patients separately.

Henderson’s nursing theory’s relevance lies in the idea that patients must be taught to gain independence and care for themselves during their recovery process. While patients desire to become healthy, nurses have a primary role in devoting their practice to help them achieve these desires.

Nurses should acquire the necessary knowledge through education to easily identify the patient’s needs and recommend the required care plan, which can help to achieve positive health outcomes. In this case, Handerson determines that scholarship and nursing development is an essential science and art that can help address human needs and reach positive outcomes. 

Video Guide


nursing need theory

What are some of the works of Virginia Henderson?

  • Principles and practice of nursing
  • The nursing studies index
  • Basic principles of nursing care

When was the nursing need theory created?

The nursing need theory was created in 1955 to address the 14 fundamental human needs.

What are the five levels of human needs?

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety needs
  • Love and belonging
  • Self-esteem needs
  • Self-actualization needs

Which theory is closely related to the nursing need theory?

The nursing need theory is closely related to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In this case, components 1 to 9 can be applied to physiological needs, the ninth component is a safety need, the 10th and 11th  components fall under the love and belonging category, while the 12 to 14 elements fall under self-esteem needs.

nursing need theory

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