Nursing Concepts of Virginia Henderson

Nursing Concepts of Virginia Henderson

This paper provides a biographical look at the life and work of Virginia Avenel Henderson. Her definition of nursing focused on the function of nursing as assisting the individual, sick or well, in attaining and maintaining health. Although Henderson never viewed her ideas as a theory, her beliefs remain a large part of the teachings of modern nursing. Henderson believed that her Nursing Studies Index was her most important contribution to the nursing profession.

Nursing Concepts of Virginia Avenel Henderson. Health care around the world has undergone extreme changes over the previous decades. However, the basic principles of nursing such as caring for the sick and elderly have remained the same. Many of those principles come from the teachings of Virginia Henderson. Virginia Avenel Henderson was born in 1897 in Kansas City, Missouri. She attended the Army School of Nursing in Washington, D. C. , graduating in 1921 to become the first full-time nursing instructor in Virginia (Flynn, 1997).

Having spent more than 60 years of her life as a nurse, teacher, author and researcher, she is referred to by some as the Florence Nightingale of the twentieth century. (Masters, 2009) Following the guidelines set by Nightingale, Henderson was a humanist who viewed education of patients and families as core to nursing care. Her theory of nursing brought to the forefront the idea of the nurse as a patient educator (Clark, 1997). Henderson may be most remembered for her definition of nursing, which has helped to shape the careers and philosophies of many nurses to follow her.

According to Henderson, “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 (or to a peaceful death) 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 (Flynn, 1997). Some of Henderson’s basic training as a nurse was in general hospitals where technical competence, performance speed and professional manner were stressed.

She believed this training to consist of a series of almost unrelated procedures and sought to resolve certain doubts about her true function. Most of Henderson’s clinical experience before becoming a nurse instructor was in public health. She spent the summer immediately following nursing school working with the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Agency in New York City (Clark, 1997) Henderson viewed nursing as art as well as science, and put great emphasis on knowing the needs of the patient.

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Her fourteen areas of nursing care, based on health being defined in terms of the physical, psychological, spiritual, and sociological aspects of an individual, formed the foundation for her teaching of principles and practice. She identified the following fourteen basic needs on which nursing care is based: • Breathe normally • East and drink adequately • Eliminate bodily wastes • Move and maintain desirable postures • Sleep and rest • Select suitable clothes; dress and undress Maintain body temperature within normal range by adjusting clothing and modifying the environment • Keep the body clean and well-groomed and protect the integument • 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 (Halloran, 1996).

Henderson did not view her work as a theory of nursing, nor did she expect anyone to agree with it. Instead, she urged every nurse to develop her own definition and concept of nursing. However, it is possible to identify the metaparadigm concepts of nursing within her work. In Henderson’s philosophy, Person is the recipient of nursing care who is composed of biological, psychological, sociological, and spiritual components. Environment is the external environment, temperature, dangers in the environment, and impact of the community on the individual and the family.

Health is based on the patient’s ability to function independently; and nursing assists the person, sick or well, in performance of activities and helps the person gain independence as rapidly as possible (Clark, 1997). Henderson also stressed that her concept was not limited to nursing the sick or caring for individuals. She felt that nursing must be fully involved in the politics, ethics and economics of health care. She also saw the concept of nursing as open-ended. The quality of service is limited only by the imagination and competence of the nurse who interprets it (Clark, 1997).

Henderson also had strong ideas about using technology to improve the field of nursing and patient care. As early as 1985, she was advocating the use of electronic patient records as a tool for the collection and processing of patient data for statistical purposes. She also believed that an international medical record with contributions of doctors, nurses and others, would empower patients and encourage nurses to develop a more equal partnership with them (Clark, 1997). Henderson, the visionary, would urge all nurses, educators, clinicians and researchers to take advantage of every pportunity to increase their knowledge in the current and potential use of technologies in order to improve on the unique role of the nurse. She would call for a better preparation of all nurses with computer skills, development of standardized training, the transformation of nursing data into new knowledge, and a standardized language for documenting care (Tlou, 2001). Virginia Henderson served as senior research associate emeritus for the Yale University School of Nursing and produced a wealth of influential publications, all of which reflect three common traits.

First, she was a scientist. Her work pertaining to nurses and their patients is unparalleled in any health science field. Second, she was an artist. Her art was in elegant, thorough, and clear writing. Third, she was a warm, caring human being. She blended her science and art with a fundamental understanding of herself, and she shared her humanity and her love for her fellow human beings with all who read her works (Halloran, 1996).

Although she may be best known for her Basic Principles of Nursing Care, Henderson believed that her nursing Studies Index was her most important contribution to nursing (Clark, 1997). Henderson pointed out, “until the average practicing nurse learns how to use and will use indexes to retrieve information from data banks, the nurse will not have taken the most elementary step to becoming part of a research-based profession—a claim nurses now like to make.

Any researcher who does not find, review and build on related research is busy rediscovering the wheel—wasting time and usually someone else’s money. ” (Clark, 1997) Henderson died a peaceful death on March 19, 1996, living out her definition of nursing (others did for her what she did not have the strength to do for herself), but her work and her message will live for generations of nurses to come (Flynn, 1997).

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