Importance of Theory


Importance of Theory






Importance of Theory


Nursing like any other profession is guided by theories that influence daily practice. For instance, Dickoff and James (1968) defined nursing theory as, “a conceptual system or framework invented for some purpose” as quoted in Meleis (2018). However, due to its wide scope, the nursing profession is guided not by a single theory but multiple theories that have been identified to influence different aspects of the profession. Due to their multiplicity, nursing theories have been categorized based on the scope of their influence. For instance, among the theories that have shaped the nursing profession is the “Need Theory” postulated by Virginia Henderson. This theory centers on the independence of the patience in the performance of their basic activities to aid in their quick recovery. As such, this paper will focus on the origins of this theory, the importance of nursing theories in various aspects of nursing, and how this nursing theory is applied to education in the nursing profession.

Importance of Nursing Theory

Due to its critical role in the everyday practice of nursing, the nursing theory has been used to not only structure the education of nurses but also guide their practice as a profession. Before the 1960’s, nursing was not considered as a mainstream profession. However, Henderson’s work in clearly defining what nursing was and the postulation of her ‘Need Theory’ brought nursing into the mainframe as a profession (Alligood, 2015). For instance, nursing theory is important to the nursing profession because it directs the practice of nursing and spawns knowledge. Besides, nursing theory helps to explain nursing while at the same time assisting nurses to figure out what they do and why they do it.

Continuous education is important in expanding the knowledge base of practicing nurses. As such, post graduate studies are structured in a way that not only increases the nurse’s understanding of theoretical aspects of the profession but also increases their analytical capabilities. As such, it is important to include the study of nursing theory in master’s program. Its inclusion helps to reduce the missing links between theory, practice, and research (George, 2011). Secondly, it helps to crystallize the potential opportunities available for the advancement of the profession. Thirdly, the understanding of the theories at master’s level helps to enhance the values and beliefs that guide the profession while at the same time assisting to shape the graduates perspective on using techniques and ideas. Fourthly, the study of nursing theory at master’s level helps to give focus to the curriculum.

Since nursing theory provides the framework for nursing as a profession, its use in distinguishing the profession from other healthcare professions is applied varyingly. For instance, nursing theory is used to establish a terminology that is unique to the nursing profession.  As such, when that terminology is applied in healthcare, it becomes evident where its origin and application are. Furthermore, nursing theories help to establish standards and criteria for the measurement of nursing outcomes. These measurements or standards are unique to the profession and are not applicable to other healthcare professionals (Henderson, 2006). Besides, these theories help to enhance the independence of the nursing profession by delineating its autonomous functions.

Variables that impact the development of a profession are not constant throughout. As such, the nursing profession is not immune to changes due to technology and the advancement of knowledge. Thus, one concern regarding the use of nursing theory in the profession is the need for unanimity among all members in what the theory states. Such agreements not only stifle alternative thought, they limit progress in the development of the theories themselves.

Need Theory

Virginia Henderson postulated the ‘Need Theory’ out of her educational and practical experience as a nurse. Her theory was first published in 1966 when she was defining nursing and the 14 needs that she identified for the care of patients towards recovery. However, the latest edition of this theory is the fifth edition that was published in 1991 (Maville and Huerta, 2013).

Need theory is hinged upon 14 components that Henderson proposed were necessary for essential nursing care. These components were classified into four major concepts that form the basis of this theory. These are the individual, environment, health, and nursing profession (Maville and Huerta, 2013). Thus by addressing, all the components of this theory, it was assumed that the patient would not only receive the best possible care, but they would be empowered towards attaining a healthy status.


According to the need theory, the individual or patient has some basic needs that form a mechanism of health. These components are not only interlinked, and they are dependent on each other for the well being of the system (Henderson, 2006). Consequently, the body and mind (physiological and Psychological) are not treated as being independent of each other but as inseparable and dependent on each other.


According to the ‘Need Theory,’ the environment offers the setting where the individual or patient acquires the knowledge on unique living. Also, it encompasses everything that affects life and growth on both the individual and their family. Further, it touches on the role of the community on the well being of families and the individuals therein (Henderson, 2006). Consequently, the theory proposes that basic care provided by nurses involves availing the necessary conditions under which the individual can perform the 14 functions without any assistance


According to the ‘Need Theory,’ an individual’s ability to function independently is critical to the definition of good health following the14 components. Nonetheless, the function of nurses is not limited to curative duties but also involves imparting knowledge on prevention of disease and promotion of good health (Henderson, 2006). Consequently, the theory proposes that an individual’s well being is influenced by their ability to independently meet the challenges to the good health of age, cultural influences, physical, intellectual, and emotional poise.

Nursing Profession

Based on the 14 components that define good health, the theory of need proposes that nurses should be available to assist an individual temporally if they are not in a position to perform or meet one or more of the components independently due to a lack of strength, knowledge or will power. Further, nurses are called upon to assist an individual meet their life activities and help them in their journey towards attaining independence of functions. However, although the nurse is required to implement the therapeutic regime advised by the physician, the nurse is responsible for tailoring each plan to the individual (Henderson, 2006). Also, the nurse is not only a care giver but a problem solver, and they have a role in giving patients the necessary and will power to overcome ill health and become independent.

Need theory is at the core of the nursing curriculum at undergraduate and graduate levels. Therefore, as one among other nursing theories, the ‘Need Theory’ is critical in education because of its broadness. This theory not only encompasses the physiological aspects of nursing but also the psychological and sociological components of health (Henderson, 2006). Further, its usefulness in education is found in the structured curriculum and as a source for educational research while at the same time helping to structure research questions.

Application of Need Theory to Education

As a part of nursing theories, the ‘Need Theory’ is not only critical for undergraduate students but also for post graduates. For undergraduates, the theory offers them a road map on the ethical and professional standards they need to adhere to. Further, the theory crystallizes research ideas for graduate students. Nonetheless, the theory explains education as a form of means of gathering knowledge that should be shaped to offer the best possible nursing care to patients (Ahtisham and Jacolin, 2015). Further, it does not view education or knowledge as static and proposes continued education to meet emerging challenges.

Example1. Collecting data on communicable disease among a certain demographic groups may call for special sociological skills to navigate cultural barriers. As such, nurses who understand the concept of ‘Need Theory’ are equipped with the necessary skills to be able to communicate not only to the community regarding the health situation and appeal to the individuals to participate to eliminate the threat (Maville and Huerta, 2013).

Example 2: Understanding that the road to recovery encompasses more than medication, I assisted a patient who was suffering from a disease and was at the same time in depression due to a pending divorce. By spending more time with the patient and figuring out the source of their depression, I was able to get through to them and listen to their problems. As it turned out, all that the patient needed was someone to listen and soon they started responding to clinical care for their disease.


Nursing theory is not only important it is critical in the nursing profession. Nursing theory has distinguished nursing as a profession and set standards for nursing care and ethical practice. Among the various nursing theories, Henderson’s ‘Need Theory’ has played a crucial role in the development of the profession. It has influenced not only how nursing is practiced but also how it’s taught. Furthermore, its four components have helped better the nursing care provided to the individual and population at large while at the same time increasing the knowledge to increase resilience at the individual and community level. Thus, I have learnt that nursing theories as a whole are not only important for the practical performance in the profession but they also shape its future in meeting emerging challenges through education.















Ahtisham, Y., & Jacoline, S. (2015). Integrating Nursing Theory and Process into Practice; Virginia’s Henderson Need Theory. International Journal of Caring Sciences8(2), 443-450

Alligood, M. R. (2014). Nursing theorists and their work. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier

George, J. B. (2011). Nursing Theories: The Base for Professional Nursing Practice, 6/e. Boston, MA: Pearson

Henderson, V. (2006). The concept of nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53(1), 21-31.

Maville, J. A., & Huerta, C. G. (2013). Health promotion in nursing. Australia: Delmar, Cengage Learning.

Meleis, A. I. (2018). Theoretical nursing: Development and progress. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer


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