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Nursing Theories and Models

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There are several different nursing theories and models that work to help nurses perform their job and help their patient in the best way possible. A nursing theory is designed to guide the nursing practice and, typically, involves concepts, models and assumptions. Nursing models allow the theory to be applied to the practice of nursing. This means that nursing models offer several examples to help nurses practice these theories in a real-life situation. Read on the learn more about the most common nursing theories and models. 

  • Florence Nightingale's Legacy of Caring – Florence Nightingale wrote one of the first theories of nursing in 1860. She focused on the relationship between the patient and their environment and felt that manipulating or changing the patient's environment would help the "body's reparative processes." 
  • Ernestine Wiedenbach's Theory of Clinical Nursing – Ernestine Wiedenbach's theory of clinical nursing is also known as the helping art of clinical nursing. This nursing theory focuses on individualizing care for each patient. This is done by assessing the individual needs of each patient, so the nurse knows when to step in and help the patient. This assessment involves observation and understanding the patient's behavior. Under this theory, the nurse learns how to identify causes of discomfort and knowing when the client is able to resolve problems on their own, and when they need assistance.
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  • Virginia Henderson's Definition of Nursing – Virginia Henderson's definition of nursing was written in 1955 and is also known as Henderson's Basic Needs. This theory was groundbreaking because it introduced a definition of nursing. Henderson defined nursing as "assisting individuals to gain independence in relation to the performance of activities contributing to health or its recovery." She focused on helping patients regain their independence, and accounted 14 basic needs necessary to meet this goal. The 14 basic needs include: Breathing normally, drinking and eating adequately, eliminating body waste, moving and maintaining a desirable position, sleeping and resting, selecting suitable clothes, maintaining normal body temperature through clothing choice and controlling environment, practicing personal hygiene and keeping the body well groomed, avoiding environment dangers and injury to others, communicating with others about feelings, needs, and opinions, worshipping according to one's faith, working to feel a sense of accomplishment, participating in recreational activities, and learning to satisfy curiosity.
  • Jean Watson's Philosophy and Science of Caring Theory – Jean Watson's Philosophy and Science of Caring Theory was published in 1979 and defines nursing as related to humanistic aspects of life. She defined caring as a "universal social phenomenon that is only effective when practiced interpersonally considering humanistic aspects and caring". She felt that caring was central to nursing and would help the patient regain their independence.
  • Dorothea E. Orem's Self-Care Deficit Theory in Nursing – Orem's theory is classified as part of the "need theorists" as it works to help patients regain their physical and mental independence without over relying on the health care system. This model is based on three theories, which are the theory of self-care, theory of self-care deficit, and theory of nursing systems. The model outlines three different levels of care that a nurse can provide. The first level is wholly compensatory, which means that the nurse is solely caring for the patient's needs. The second level is partly compensatory, which means that the nurse is helping the individual care for themselves. The third and final level is supportive education, which means that the nurse provides assistance in helping the individual learn to solely care for themselves.
  • Hildegard E. Peplau's Psychodynamic Nursing Theory – This theory of nursing emphasizes the interpersonal relationship. Peplau claims that the interpersonal relationship helps the patient's personality and helps to ease distress. The nurse is able to use the interpersonal relationship to help identify problems and potential problems. The psychodynamic nursing theory outlines the four phases of nurse-patient relationships as orientation, identification, exploitation, and resolution. The theory also states the six nursing roles as stranger, resource person, teacher, leader, surrogate, and counselor. 

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