Dawn Mangine

    Virginia A. Henderson (November 30, 1897 – March 19, 1996) was a nurse theorist and educator who advocated for a positive view of the nursing profession. Henderson developed the Nursing Need Theory, a way to define the focus of nursing practice. The focus of the theory is on the importance of increasing the patient’s independence in order to foster his or her progress in the hospital.


    Henderson was born in Kansas City, MO, to parents Lucy Minor Abbot and Daniel B. Henderson. At the age of 4, her family moved to Virginia – the state her mother named her for – and started her educational career. In 1921, she received her Diploma in Nursing from the Army School of Nursing at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

    Henderson’s career spanned many educational positions: instructor and educational director in Norfolk Protestant Hospital, Norfolk, VA; nurse supervisor and clinical instructor at Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, NY; and instructor and associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, NY. Throughout her career, she emphasized a nurse’s duty to patient rather than to doctor.

    Henderson received numerous accolades and awards. In 2000 the Virginia Nurses Association recognized her as one of the 51 Pioneer Nurses in Virginia, and she is a member of the American Nurses Association (ANA) Hall of Fame.

    She died in hospice in 1996 at the age of 98.

    Need Theory of Nursing

    “The unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will, or knowledge. And to do this in such a way as to help him gain independence as rapidly as possible.”

    The Nursing Need Theory focuses on the importance of increasing a patient’s independence so that he or she can leave the hospital. The theory emphasizes basic human needs and how nurses can assist in meeting those needs. The theory is also predicated on the following assumptions:

    1. Nurses care for patients until patients can care for themselves.
    2. Patients desire to return to health and independent living.
    3. Nurses are willing to serve and devote themselves to their patients.
    4. “Mind and body are inseparable and are interrelated.” – Henderson did not limit nursing to caring for ill patients. Patients were presented as whole individuals with biopsychosocial needs, not just physical tending.

    14 Components of the Need Theory

    These components are meant to demonstrate a holistic approach to nursing that covers the physiological, psychological, spiritual, and social needs of patients. Henderson’s concept of nursing and her theory are widely accepted in nursing practice to this day, and her 14 components are simple, straightforward, and applicable to many types of patients.

    • Breathe normally
    • Eat and drink adequately
    • Eliminate body wastes
    • Move and maintain desirable postures
    • Sleep and rest
    • Select suitable clothes; dress and undress
    • Maintain normal body temperature by adjusting clothing and modifying environment
    • Keep the body clean and well groomed; protect the integument (Ed.’s note: outer covering, e.g. skin)
    • Avoid dangers in the environment and avoid injuring others
    • Communicate with others in expressing emotions, needs, fears, or opinions
    • Worship according to one’s faith
    • Work in such a way that there is a sense of accomplishment
    • Play or participate in various forms of recreation
    • Learn, discover, or satisfy the curiosity that leads to normal development and health, and use the available health facilities
    "The nurse is temporarily the consciousness of the unconscious, the love of life for the suicidal, the leg of the amputee, the eyes of the newly blind, a means of locomotion for the infant, the knowledge and confidence of the young mother, and a voice for those too weak to speak."

    Photo credit: lewebpedagogique


    Gonzalo, A., BSN, RN, “Virginia Henderson: Nursing Need Theory,” Nurselabs, August 24, 2019.