Nursing Concepts of Virginia Henderson

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Nursing Concepts of Virginia Avenel Henderson

Barbara Sullivan

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
NSG 316: Introduction to Professional Nursing Practice

University of Southern Mississippi

Fall Mini-Session, 2009


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. 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...
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