Analysis and Comparison of Two Nursing Theories


A theory can be defined as a set of similar ideas and concepts that brings out a complete picture of a phenomenon that is predictive and explanatory in nature. It is composed of definitions, concepts, models, and is based on assumptions. Nursing practice is based on nursing theories. Thus, it is a discipline and profession. The hypotheses give guidance and direction required in structuring professional nursing education, research, and practice. Furthermore, they differentiate the primary role of nursing from other profession and serve as a guide for assessment, evaluation, and intervention of nursing care. The purpose of this paper is to identify and discuss two theories that have induced thinking in nursing practice. The assumptions under discussion in this essay are the need theory by Virginia Henderson and unitary human beings by Martha Rogers.

Literature and review

Need theory

Theory background

Virginia Henderson, born in Missouri, developed the need theory. She had a diploma in nursing from Army school nursing in 1921. By 1923, Henderson was teaching nursing at Norfolk Protestant Hospital. By her death in 1996, she had honorary doctoral degrees from Pace University, Yale University, University of Western Ontario, and Catholic University of America. In her theory, the main area of concern was that, increase patient independence, resultantly the progress after hospitalization will not be delayed (, 2015). Furthermore, she advocated for assisting individuals to have freedom of activities involving health or its recovery. Under the need theory, nursing activities are categorized into fourteen components base on the human needs. Henderson describes the role of nurses as helping a person, working with the person, and doing for the person. She defined nursing as a unique function of nurses to assist people either sick or well, in activities concerning to health or its recovery that the patient would have performed unaided if he had the required knowledge or strength.

Principal components


Henderson acknowledges that people have basic need of health and require help to achieve independence and health. According to Henderson, individuals achieve wholeness through maintaining emotional and physiological balance (, 2015). Resultantly, she defined a patient as someone who is in need of nursing care although she did not limit illness to nursing care.


Although the theory does not define the term environment, she states that maintaining and keeping a supportive environment that is conducive to health is one of the essential elements in her fourteen activities of client assistance. The theory supports public and private health sector in keeping people healthy. She believed that the society expects and wants nurse’s services of caring for individuals unable to function independently.


In the theory, health is taken to mean equality in all realms of life. It is taken to be equal to independence or the ability to perform tasks without any assistance from fundamental human needs or the fourteen components. On the other hand, nurses are the key persons in the prevention of illness, being able to cure, and promoting health (, 2015). Henderson states that to have a good health is challenging because it is affected by numerous factors such as cultural background, age, emotional balance among many others.


Henderson defined nursing as a unique function of nurses to assist people either sick or well, in activities concerning to health or its recovery that the patient would have performed unaided if he had the required knowledge or strength. The primary goal of a nurse is to make patient whole, complete, or independent. Furthermore, the nurse works in hand with other physicians to improve the health of an individual (, 2015).

Fourteen components of the need theory

They are divided into:

  1. Physiological
  2. Breath normally
  3. Drink and eat adequately
  4. Eliminate body wastes
  5. Sleep and rest
  6. Avoid injuring others and dangers in environment
  7. Keep the body well groomed, clean, and protect integument
  8. Keep the body temperature at normal range through modifying environment and adjusting clothing
  9. Maintain desirable postures
  10. Select suitable clothing


  1. Psychological aspect of learning and communicating
  2. Talk with other people in expressing needs, emotions, fears, or opinions
  3. Learn, satisfy, or discover curiosity that leads to good health and healthy development and make use of the available health facilities.
  4. Moral and spiritual
  5. Worship and pray according to one’s faith
  6. Sociologically oriented to recreation and occupation
  7. Work with a sense of accomplishment
  8. Participate or play in many forms of recreation

Assumptions of the need theory

While developing the theory Henderson had several assumptions that included:

  1. The nurses care for patient up to the point they can care for themselves again
  2. The patients primary desire is to return to health
  • Nurses will serve both day and night
  1. Nurses are educated at the college level both in sciences and arts
  2. The body and the mind are inseparable

Strengths and weaknesses of the need theory

The dominant power of the theory is that nursing and the fourteen components under this theory as formulated by Henderson is self-explanatory and uncomplicated. Moreover, most nurses in nursing can use it as a guide without difficulty (, 2015).

The major weakness in her work is that it lacks conceptual linkage between physiological characteristics and other human features.

Science of unitary human beings theory

Theory background

Martha Rodgers born on March 1914 in Texas USA put forward the theory science of unitary human beings. She had a diploma at Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing (KGHSN) and ended up becoming a professor at the University of New York before her death in 1994. In her work, Rodgers defines nursing as a science and art that is humanitarian and humanistic. She goes on to say that, nursing is majorly concerned with the direction and nature of human development. According to Rodgers, the theory contains two dimensions that are the science nursing and the art nursing (Theoretical Foundations of Nursing, 2015). The science nursing is made up of specific knowledge in the field of nursing coming from scientific research. On the other hand, art healing involves the use of science nursing creatively to improve the patient’s life.

Principal components


She defines health as a process of expressing life. She goes on to say it is the behavior and characteristics coming from the simultaneous interaction of environmental fields and humans, mutual, and illness and health depend on each other.


Rodgers believes that nursing exists to help and serve people. Moreover, the safe nursing practice depends on the amount of scientific knowledge that the nurse brings into practice.

Scope of nursing

The primary aim of nursing is to help people achieve their maximum health potential. Promotion and maintenance of health, nursing diagnosis, prevention of disease, and intervention encompass nursing goals.

Energy field

This area is a central unit of both non-living and the living. It sees the environment and people as irreducible wholes (Theoretical Foundations of Nursing, 2015). This domain continuously varies in extent, intensity, and density.


The theory has the following assumptions:

  1. Life process evolves unidirectional and irreversible along space-time continuum.
  2. Man characteristics are capacity for imagery and abstraction, sensation and emotion, and language and thought
  3. Environment and man are continuously exchanging energy and matter with one another
  4. The man is a complete possessing integrity, and the manifesting characteristic is different from the sum of his parts.

Strengths and weaknesses of Science of unitary human beings theory

The significant force of the theory is that it provides a worldview crucial for nurses to derive hypotheses and theories to different situations. Furthermore, the theory cannot be directly tested as it lacks strong opinions. However, it can be tested in principle.

The key weakness in the theory is that it does not define particular hypotheses for it’s unified, highly derived framework, and abstract. Moreover, testing concepts truthfulness is questionable because the ideas are abstract (Theoretical Foundations of Nursing, 2015).

Conclusion and recommendations


In her theory, Henderson gives the definition of nursing according to her beliefs. Her main emphasis on the basic human needs as the primary focus of nursing led the most extensive development of the theory. Her definition of the fourteen concepts and nursing are self-explanatory and-and uncomplicated.

The theory of science of unitary human beings is an extremely general concept, as the ideas and concept are not confided with a particular nursing approach on the contrary with other nursing theories as they explained their main idea. In her statement, she made people believe that a patient cannot be separated from the environment when addressing treatment and health.


  1. Nurses should conduct their practice according to their training and education.
  2. The education system should be improved to enable nurses achieve a higher level of training and education.
  3. Collect enough data to allow effective policymaking and workforce planning.













Reference,. (2015). Virginia Avenel Henderson, RN, MA – Virginia Henderson International Nursing e-Repository. Retrieved 7 December 2015, from

Theoretical Foundations of Nursing,. (2015). Martha Rogers. Retrieved 7 December 2015, from



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