Nightingale’s Environmental Theory and Henderson’s 14 Fundamental Needs

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The theories of Nightingale and Henderson have both utilized the fields of environment and basic needs in order to explain the fundamentals of health and wellness. The classical theories, in their core concepts, have evidently considered four interlinking factors as keys in obtaining health: (1) body, (2) environment, (3) survival, and (4) balance. The theory of Nightingale has focused in utilizing the environment in order to provide the needs of the body in order to facilitate its balance and eventually its survival. With the similar theoretical principle, Henderson has also proposed her theory on 14 fundamental needs in order to direct the process of achieving health through the utilization of environmental components to facilitate the balance of bodily physiology, which consequently leads to its survival. However, one of the theories possesses largely broad core concepts that implicate diversified theoretical implications.

Nightingale’s Environmental Theory

As far as the theoretical principle is concerned, Nightingale’s environmental theory (1869) emphasizes the use of five environmental components in achieving health, namely (1) pure and fresh air, (2) pure water, (3) efficient drainage, (4) cleanliness, and (5) appropriate lighting (McEwen and Wills, 2006 p.133). These environmental components specifically undermine the importance of these fundamental needs in directing the body towards a health state. The theory of Nightingale broadly defines the utilization of environment in attaining balance and health, and facilitating survival. In fact, the core concepts of Nightingale further limit the contributions of environment to these five components.

Henderson’s 14 Fundamental Needs

Meanwhile, the theory of Virginia Henderson’s 14 Fundamental Needs (1966) has expanded its core components to variety of possible environmental influences. Aside from the potential physical influences of environment to health (e.g. breathing, eating and drinking, etc), Henderson has further expanded her core concepts exploring both external (physical surrounding environment) and internal environments (body), which further specify the relationship between body and the utilization of environment directed towards health (Craven and Hirnle, 2005 p.63). Henderson’s fundamental needs have focused on both physical (e.g. breathing normally) and social (e.g. participation in various forms of recreation) environmental components, and utilized these core concepts to explain the relationship between health and environment.


The two core concepts of Nightingale and Henderson both utilize the principles of using environment to establish balance in body directed to its survival, which overall defines the classical view on health. However, the core concept in Nightingale’s environment has been based solely on environment through her five components. The components of environment can further branch out to diversified compositions (e.g. physical and non-physical environment). Meanwhile, in the theory of Henderson, the 14 Fundamental Needs are derived from specific relationships existing between environment and body directed in achieving health. Unlike Nightingale, Henderson has incorporated both physical and non-physical or social environment and further links these components to better explain the subject of the theory, which is the ideal basic needs of men in order to achieve health and survival.


  • Craven, R. F., & Hirnle, C. J. (2005). Fundamentals of Nursing: Human Health and Function. New York, U.S.A: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • McEwan, M., & Wills, E. M. (2006). Management and leadership for nurse administrators. New York, U.S.A: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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