Abraham Maslow created the theory of human needs. It is commonly referred to as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and offers a framework that allows psychologists and decision-makers to understand the specific factors that can impact a person’s personal development.

According to the hierarchy of needs, if a person wants to lead a happy and fulfilling life, five main needs should be met first.

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety
  • Belongingness needs
  • Self-esteem needs
  • Self-actualization needs

If these five needs are met, a person will be happy with his or her life. Maslow claimed that if a need is more or less satisfied, it will go away and the person will then begin focusing on satisfying the other needs.

Virginia Henderson, a noted American nurse, theorist, researcher and writer, took Maslow’s hierarchy of needs a step further to develop the human needs theory. When a patient receives treatment and begins to recover, it is essential that the patient can take care of their health and well-being after being discharged from the hospital. According to Virginia Henderson, while nurses should take care of their patients, they should also ensure that patients become independent and reach their health goals as they are recovering. That forms the basis of Henderson’s need theory and helps to provide a framework for nurses to provide optimal nursing care and make sure that patients can help themselves when they leave the healthcare facility.

Henderson’s human needs theory

Better known as nursing need theory, the human need theory focuses on unique nursing practices. The theory emphasizes the importance of making patients independent so that they recover faster during their stay in a healthcare facility. The theory highlights the basic human needs by further subdividing the five primary needs from Maslow’s theory and how nurses can meet those needs. When nurses work to meet the needs mentioned in the nursing need theory, they will provide high-quality care to patients.

Henderson said that nurses perform an independent function as they need to act in a patient’s stead when they lack physical strength, knowledge and the will to act, as they would when they are healthy. So, nurses should seize the opportunity and apply the human need theory in a creative way for the betterment of their patients.

When implementing the human need theory in nursing, it is essential to remember that the body and mind are not different entities. They are interrelated and one cannot be separated from the other. Furthermore, nurses should take care of patients until they are healthy enough to take care of themselves. The theory assumes that patients want to be healthy again and nurses are diligent and serve their patients day and night so that they can help their patients become healthy and independent.

The metaparadigm of nursing need theory

Here are some of the major concepts of human need theory that students and new nurses should be aware of.

The individual: 

Every person has health needs and they require help to be healthy and independent or if they want to have a peaceful death. To achieve this, a person needs to maintain optimal emotional and physiological balance.

The environment:

While Henderson’s nursing need theory does not define the meaning of environment, most nursing professionals and educators concur that Henderson meant creating a supportive environment for patients that helps them stay healthy. In this case, nurses need to act for the benefit of a person, who is unable to function independently to maintain their health.


Health, in nursing need theory, means achieving a balance in all spheres of life. This can be affected by several factors, such as a person’s age, cultural background and emotional balance. A person should be able to independently perform activities to maintain a balance in their lives. In the event they are not, nurses come onto the scene to promote health, ensure a cure and prevent illnesses.


A nurse’s responsibility is to assist a person who does not have the strength, knowledge or will to perform activities that help them stay healthy or recover from an ailment. When a person is healthy, they can perform the activities on their own. On the other hand, an unhealthy person needs temporary assistance, which is provided by a nurse. A nurse needs to perform the activities in the way that they would for themselves, adding that human and humane touch to nursing care.

The components of nursing need theory

The nursing need theory has 14 components that cover the physiological, spiritual, psychological and social needs of patients. Using these components, nurses can provide holistic nursing care to help their patients recover and gain independence.

The following come under physiological components:

  • Breathe normally.
  • Eat and drink sufficiently.
  • Eliminate bodily wastes.
  • Maintain good posture and move adequately.
  • Get sufficient sleep and rest.
  • Wear suitable clothes.
  • Maintain normal body temperature by adjusting the indoor environment and clothing.
  • Keep the body clean and properly groomed at all times.
  • Avoid dangers in the surroundings so that the body does not get injured or harmed.

The spiritual component covers worship based on a person’s faith and beliefs. Psychological components include proper communication with others to express feelings, emotions, needs, opinions or fears, and to learn and discover how to aid normal health and development. On the other hand, social components are to work in a way that causes the person to feel a sense of accomplishment and to participate in activities that help the body and mind to relax and de-stress.

The importance of human needs theory in nursing

As Henderson stated, one cannot separate body and mind and both are interrelated. While doctors make a personalized treatment plan for each patient, the responsibility lies with the nurses to ensure that the treatment is provided to help patients heal, recover and leave healthcare facilities. However, nursing care should create an environment that is conducive to recovery. The human need theory highlights elements that are essential for successful treatment.

In a globalized world, nurses deal with diverse people from different walks of life, ethnicities, nationalities and races. They will face obstacles while communicating with people and nursing need theory helps nurses to use a standardized approach to meet the needs of their patients. This approach can be further expanded to create a more detailed strategy so that treatments can be personalized.

The importance of human needs theory in clinical practice cannot be ignored. The theory can be put into practice in any clinical setting and provides a roadmap to nursing practitioners so that they can understand the caring needs of patients and provide holistic nursing care. That is one of the reasons many BSN programs include nursing need theory as a part of their curriculum. Baylor University Online has made human needs a core topic in its curriculum so that new nurse practitioners understand how human needs theory can be practically used in healthcare facilities.

Human needs theory is not just for new nurse practitioners. Even experienced nurses can use the different components listed by Henderson to collate reliable data about the health of their patients. Once a nurse has valid patient data, it can be used to provide quality nursing care.