How to Apply Henderson's Theory of Nursing

Written by audrey jones
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How to Apply Henderson's Theory of Nursing
Implementing Henderson's need theory (nursing duties image by Pix by Marti from

The Henderson Theory of Nursing was created by Virginia Henderson (1897-1996), a nursing educator and prolific author, and was developed beginning in 1937. The theory contains 14 elements, each of which Henderson considered an essential function of a nurse. The foundation of Henderson's theory is that nurses should focus on the patients rather than the task. With this change of focus, nurses are able to perform their tasks of helping patients recover or pass away with peace and dignity. Nurses seeking to apply Henderson's theory during practice should therefore focus on the patient's individual needs.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Review and memorise the 14 components of Henderson's theory. These include assisting a patient to eat, drink and breathe normally, sleep, remain clean and comfortable, avoid further injury and communicate with others. Understanding and memorising all 14 components is essential to implementing the theory.

  2. 2

    Assess patients in light of these 14 components and whatever illness or disorder they have. Identify which of the 14 components a patient can perform individually and which will require assistance.

  3. 3

    Create a nursing plan. This plan should specifically state how the nurse can assist the patient during the physician's treatment of an illness or injury. The plan should address the patient's current needs and not any expected needs. The core component to Henderson's theory is for nurses to help patients become self-sufficient. Because of this, only the patient's needs should be assisted. If you are a part of a nursing team, this plan should be shared with other team members.

  4. 4

    Implement the plan. Needs should be addressed on an hourly and daily basis. The timing of a patient's needs may vary, requiring a nurse to be flexible. A patient's needs may require more or less tending to, depending on the time of day and treatment. This approach requires continuous evaluation of the patient and alterations to the provided nursing care.

  5. 5

    Reassess the nursing plan. Every few days and at important treatment markers re-evaluate the original nursing plan to see whether it should be revised. The goal of a nurse following Henderson's theory is to make the patient self-sufficient as fast as possible. If changes to nursing care will speed up the patient's recovery, they should be included in the nursing plan. Here again, the focus is on meeting the patient's needs. There is no specific time when a plan should be re-evaluated; if it is suspected that a change to the patients needs may have occurred, it is proper at that time to evaluate the old plan in light of new developments.

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