Virginia Henderson Theory of Nursing: 14 Basic Needs

virginia henderson theory of nursingVirginia Henderson had no intention of formulating a theory. But her definitions of nursing, person, health and environment could still be considered as a grand theory or philosophy in the early days where nursing has not yet fully developed the theories that we are using today.

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 and the  knowledge and confidence for the young mother…

-Virginia Henderson

Virginia Henderson Theory of Nursing:

Metaparadigm in Nursing


-          Virginia Henderson referred to a person as a patient, an individual who requires assistance to achieve health and independence or in some cases, a peaceful death.

-          Virginia Henderson introduced the concept of the mind and body of a person as inseparable. For a person to function to the utmost, he must be able to maintain physiological and emotional balance.


-          Henderson viewed health as a quality of life and is very basic for a person to function fully.

-          It is a multifactor phenomenon influenced by both internal and external factors.

-          Virginia Henderson gave emphasis in prioritizing health promotion as more important that care of the sick.


-          All the external conditions and influences that affect life and development.

-          It is important for a healthy individual to control the environment, but as illness occurs, this ability is diminished or affected. In caring for the sick it is important for the nurse to help the patient manage his surroundings to protect him from harm or any mechanical injury.

-          Nurses must provide physicians with data about the safety needs of the patient.


-          Virginia Henderson asserted that nurses function independently from the physician, but they must promote the treatment plan prescribed by the physician.

-          Another special role of the nurse is to help both the sick and well individual.

-          The care given by the nurse must empower the patient to gain independence as rapidly as possible.

-          The nurse must be knowledgeable in both biological and social sciences and must have the ability to assess basic human needs.


Virginia Henderson conceptualized the 14 Fundamental Needs of humans. These are:

  • Breathing normally.
  • Eating and drinking adequately
  • Eliminating body wastes
  • Moving and maintaining a desirable position
  • Sleeping and resting
  • Selecting suitable clothes
  • Maintaining normal body temperature by adjusting clothing and modifying the environment
  • Keeping the body clean and well groomed to promote integument (skin)
  • Avoiding dangers in the environment and avoiding injuring others
  • Communicating with others in expressing emotions, needs, fears, or opinions.
  • Worshiping according to one’s faith
  • Working in such a way that one feels a sense of accomplishment
  • Playing or participating in various forms of recreation
  • Learning, discovering or satisfying the curiosity that leads to normal development and health, and using available health facilities.

Virginia Henderson also emphasized the need to view the patient and his family as a single unit. For the patient to achieve health, he must be able to meet his need for support system which in many cases provided by the family.


Henderson also postulated that nurse functions in relation with the patient, physician and other members of the health team and each type relationship gives nurses specific responsibilities and roles.

The Nurse-Patient Relationship

Virginia Henderson stated that there are three levels comprising the nurse-patient relationship:

  • The Nurse as a substitute for the patient
  • The nurse as a helper to the patient
  • The nurse as a partner with the patiend

The Nurse-Physician Relationship

-          Nurses function independently from physicians. She also insisted that nurses do not follow doctor’s orders; rather they follow in a philosophy which allows physicians to give orders to patients or other healthcare team members.

The Nurse as a Member of the Healthcare Team

-          For a team to work together in harmony, every member must work independently.


Click here to know more about Virginia Henderson and other nursing theories.

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