Faye Abdella is a celebrated nurse theorist, military nurse, and a leader in nursing research. Get to know the major concepts of her “21 Nursing Problems” nursing theor, its application and impact in nursing.
Faye Glenn Abdellah (March 13, 1919 – present) is a pioneer in nursing research who developed the “Twenty-One Nursing Problems.” Her model of nursing was progressive for the time in that it refers to a nursing diagnosis during a time in which nurses were taught that diagnoses were not part of their role in health care.
She was the first nurse officer to earn the ranking of a two-star rear admiral and the first nurse and the first woman to serve as a Deputy Surgeon General.
Faye Abdellah was born on March 13, 1919 in New York to a father of Algerian heritage and Scottish mother. Her family subsequently moved to New Jersey where she attended high school.
Years later, on May 6, 1937, the German hydrogen-fueled airship Hindenburg exploded over Lakehurst.
Abdellah and her brother witnessed the explosion, destruction and the fire subsequent to the ignited hydrogen that killed many people. That incident became the turning point in Abdellah’s life. It was that time when she realized that she would never again be powerless to assist when people were in so dire need for assistance. It was at that moment she vowed that she would learn nursing and become a professional nurse.
Faye Abdellah earned a nursing diploma from Fitkin Memorial Hospital’s School of Nursing, now known as Ann May School of Nursing.
It was sufficient to practice nursing during her time in the 1940s, but she believed that nursing care should be based on research, not hours of care.
Abdellah went on to earn three degrees from Columbia University: a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1945, a master of arts degree in physiology in 1947 and a doctor of education degree in 1955.
With her advanced education, Abdellah could have chosen to become a doctor. However, as she explained in one of her interviews that she wanted to be an M.D. because she could do all she wanted to do in nursing, which is a caring profession.
At her early twenties, Faye Abdellah worked as a health nurse at a private school and her first administrative position was on the faculty of Yale University from 1945-1949. At that time she was required to teach a class called “120 Principles of Nursing Practice,” using a standard nursing textbook published by the National League for Nursing. The book included guidelines that had no scientific basis which challenged Abdellah to explain everything to what she called the “brilliant” students.
After a year Abdellah became so frustrated that she gathered her colleagues in the Yale courtyard and burned the textbooks. The next morning the school’s dean told her she would have to pay for the destroyed texts. It took a year for Abdellah to settle the debt, but she never regretted her actions because it started her on the long road in pursuit of the scientific basis of the nursing practice.
In 1949, she met Lucile Petry Leone who was the first Nurse Officer and decided to join the Public Health Service. Her first assignment was with the division of nursing that focused on research and studies. They performed studies with numerous hospitals to improve nursing practice.
Abdellah was an advocate of degree programs for nursing. Diploma programs, she believes, were never meant to prepare nurses at the professional level. Nursing education, she argued, should be based on research; she herself became among the first in her role as an educator to focus on theory and research. Her first studies were qualitative; they simply described situations. As her career progressed, her research evolved to include physiology, chemistry, and behavioral sciences.
In 1957, Abdellah spearheaded a research team in Manchester, Connecticut, that established the groundwork for what became known as progressive patient care. In this framework, critical care patients were treated in an intensive care unit, followed by a transition to immediate care, and then home care. The first two segments of the care program proved very popular within the caregiver profession. Abdellah is also credited with developing the first nationally tested coronary care unit as an outgrowth of her work in Manchester.
The home care, which is the third phase of the progressive patient care equation, was not widely accepted in the mid-twentieth century. Abdellah explained that people at the time kept saying home care would mean having a maid or a nurse in everyone’s home. They could not figure out that home care with nurses teaching self care would be a way of helping patients regain independent function. Forty years later home care had become an essential part of long-term health care.
In another innovation within her field, Abdellah developed the Patient Assessment of Care Evaluation (PACE), a system of standards used to measure the relative quality of individual health-care facilities that was still used in the healthcare industry into the 21st century. She was also one of the first people in the healthcare industry to develop a classification system for patient care and patient-oriented records.
During her 40-year career as a Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Public Health Service from 1949 to 1989, Abdellah was assigned to work with the Korean people during the Korean War. As a senior officer, she was alternatively assigned to Japan, China, Russia, Australia, and the Scandinavian countries to identify the role of the Public Health Service in dealing with various health problems. She was able to assist and initiate, in an advisory role, numerous studies in those countless
She served as Chief Nurse Officer from 1970 to 1987 and was the first nurse to achieve the rank of a two-star Flag Officer and was named by U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop as the first woman and nurse Deputy Surgeon General from 1982 to 1989. After retirement, Abdellah founded and served as the first dean in the Graduate School of Nursing, GSN, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS).
Faye Abdellah is well known for her development of the “Twenty-One Nursing Problems Theory” that has interrelated the concepts of health, nursing problems, and problem-solving.
She views nursing as an art and a science that mold the attitude, intellectual competencies, and technical skills of the individual nurse into the desire and ability to help individuals cope with their health needs, whether they are ill or well.
She used Henderson’s 14 basic human needs and nursing research to establish the classification of nursing problems.
Faye Abdellah’s theory is further discussed below.
As a consultant and educator, Faye Abdellah shared her nursing theories with caregivers around the world. She led seminars in France, Portugal, Israel, Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, and the former Soviet Union. She also served as a research consultant to the World Health Organization. From her global perspective, Abdellah learned to appreciate non traditional and complementary medical treatments and developed the belief such non-Western treatments deserved scientific research.
Also, she has been active in professional nursing associations and is a prolific author, with more than 150 publications. Her publications include Better Nursing Care Through Nursing Research and Patient-Centered Approaches to Nursing. She also developed educational materials in many areas of public health, including AIDS, hospice care, and drug addiction.
Abdellah considers her greatest accomplishment being able to “play a role in establishing a foundation for nursing research as a science.” Her book, Patient-Centered Approaches to Nursing, emphasizes the science of nursing and has elicited changes throughout nursing curricula. Her work, which is based on the problem-solving method, serves as a vehicle for delineating nursing (patient) problems as the patient moves toward a healthy outcome.
Additional works written by Abdellah include: Preparing Nursing Research for the 21st Century: Evolution, Methodologies, Challenges; New directions in Patient-Centered Nursing: Guidelines for Systems of Service, Education, and Research; Effect of Nurse Staffing on Satisfactions with Nursing Care: A Study of How Omissions in Nursing Services, as Perceived by Patients and Personnel, Are Influenced by the Number of Nursing Hours Available; Patients and Personnel Speak, A Method of Studying Patient Care in Hospitals; Appraising the Clinical Resources in Small Hospitals; Nursing’s Role in the Future: The Case for Health Policy Decision Making; Overview of Nursing Research, 1955-1968; Surgeon General’s Workshop, Health Promotion and Aging proceedings. March 20-23, 1988; and Words of Wisdom from Pivotal Nurse Leaders.
Faye Abdellah is recognized as a leader in the development of nursing research and nursing as a profession within the Public Health Service (PHS) and as an international expert on health problems. She was named a “living legend” by the American Academy of Nursing in 1994 and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000 for a lifetime spent establishing and leading essential health care programs for the United States. In 2012, Abdellah was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame for a lifetime of contributions to nursing.
Her contributions to nursing and public health have been recognized with almost 90 professional and academic honors, such as the Allied Signal Achievement Award for pioneering research in aging and Sigma Theta Tau’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Abdellah’s leadership, her publications, and her lifelong contributions have set a new standard for nursing and for health care. Her legacy of more than 60 years of extraordinary accomplishments lives on nationally and globally.
Aside from being the first nurse and the first woman to serve as a Deputy Surgeon General, Faye Glenn Abdellah also made a name in the nursing profession with the formulation of her “21 Nursing Problems Theory.” Her theory changed the focus of nursing from disease-centered to patient-centered and began to include the care of families and the elderly in nursing care. The Patient Assessment of Care Evaluation developed by Abdellah is now the standard used in the United States.
According to Faye Glenn Abdellah’s theory, “Nursing is based on an art and science that moulds the attitudes, intellectual competencies, and technical skills of the individual nurse into the desire and ability to help people, sick or well, cope with their health needs.”
The patient-centered approach to nursing was developed from Abdellah’s practice, and the theory is considered a human needs theory. It was formulated to be an instrument for nursing education, so it most suitable and useful in that field. The nursing model is intended to guide care in hospital institutions, but can also be applied to community health nursing, as well.
The assumptions Abdellah’s “21 Nursing Problems Theory” relate to change and anticipated changes that affect nursing; the need to appreciate the interconnectedness of social enterprises and social problems; the impact of problems such as poverty, racism, pollution, education, and so forth on health and health care delivery; changing nursing education; continuing education for professional nurses; and development of nursing leaders from underserved groups.
The model has interrelated concepts of health and nursing problems, as well as problem-solving, which is an activity inherently logical in nature.
She describes the recipients of nursing as individuals (and families), although she does not delineate her beliefs or assumptions about the nature of human beings.
Health, or the achieving of it, is the purpose of nursing services. Although Abdellah does not give a definition of health, she speaks to “total health needs” and “a healthy state of mind and body.”
Health may be defined as the dynamic pattern of functioning whereby there is a continued interaction with internal and external forces that results in the optimal use of necessary resources to minimize vulnerabilities.
Society is included in “planning for optimum health on local, state, and international levels.” However, as Abdellah further delineates her ideas, the focus of nursing service is clearly the individual.
The client’s health needs can be viewed as problems, which may be overt as an apparent condition, or covert as a hidden or concealed one.
Because covert problems can be emotional, sociological, and interpersonal in nature, they are often missed or perceived incorrectly. Yet, in many instances, solving the covert problems may solve the overt problems as well.
Quality professional nursing care requires that nurses be able to identify and solve overt and covert nursing problems. These requirements can be met by the problem-solving process involves identifying the problem, selecting pertinent data, formulating hypotheses, testing hypotheses through the collection of data, and revising hypotheses when necessary on the basis of conclusions obtained from the data.
The following are the subconcepts of Faye Abdellah’s “21 Nursing Problems” theory and their definitions.
The 21 nursing problems fall into three categories: physical, sociological, and emotional needs of patients; types of interpersonal relationships between the patient and nurse; and common elements of patient care. She used Henderson’s 14 basic human needs and nursing research to establish the classification of nursing problems. Abdellah’s 21 Nursing Problems are the following:
Moreover, the needs of patients are further divided into four categories: basic to all patients, sustenal care needs, remedial care needs, and restorative care needs.
The basic needs of an individual patient are to maintain good hygiene and physical comfort; promote optimal health through healthy activities, such as exercise, rest and sleep; promote safety through the prevention of health hazards like accidents, injury or other trauma and through the prevention of the spread of infection; and maintain good body mechanics and prevent or correct deformity.
Sustenal care needs facilitate the maintenance of a supply of oxygen to all body cells; facilitate the maintenance of nutrition of all body cells; facilitate the maintenance of elimination; facilitate the maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance; recognize the physiological responses of the body to disease conditions; facilitate the maintenance of regulatory mechanisms and functions; and facilitate the maintenance of sensory function.
Remedial care needs to identify and accept positive and negative expressions, feelings, and reactions; identify and accept the interrelatedness of emotions and organic illness; facilitate the maintenance of effective verbal and non-verbal communication; promote the development of productive interpersonal relationships; facilitate progress toward achievement of personal spiritual goals; create and maintain a therapeutic environment; and facilitate awareness of the self as an individual with varying physical, emotional, and developmental needs.
Restorative care needs include the acceptance of the optimum possible goals in light of limitations, both physical and emotional; the use of community resources as an aid to resolving problems that arise from illness; and the understanding of the role of social problems as influential factors in the case of illness.
Abdellah’s work, which is based on the problem-solving method, serves as a vehicle for delineating nursing (patient) problems as the patient moves toward a healthy outcome. The theory identifies ten steps to identify the patient’s problem and 11 nursing skills used to develop a treatment typology.
The ten steps are:
The 11 nursing skills are:
Abdellah also explained nursing as a comprehensive service, which includes:
Faye Abdellah’s work is a set of problems formulated in terms of nursing-centered services, which are used to determine the patient’s needs. The nursing-centered orientation to client care appears to be contradicting to the client-centered approach that Abdellah professes to support. This can be observed by her desire to move away from a disease-centered orientation.
In her attempt to bring nursing practice to its proper relationship with restorative and preventive measures for meeting total client needs, she seems to swing the pendulum to the opposite pole, from the disease orientation to nursing orientation, while leaving the client somewhere in the middle.
The nursing process in Abdellah’s theory includes assessment, nursing diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation.
In the assessment phase, the nursing problems implement a standard procedure for data collection. A principle underlying the problem-solving approach is that for each identified problem, pertinent data is collected. The overt or covert nature of problems necessitates a direct or indirect approach, respectively.
The outcome of the collection of data in the first phase concludes the possible problems of the patient, which can be grouped under one or more of the broader nursing problems. This will further lead to the nursing diagnosis.
After formulating the diagnosis, nursing care plan is developed and appropriate nursing interventions are determined. The nurse now set those interventions in action which complete the implementation phase of the nursing process.
The evaluation takes place after the interventions have been carried out. The most convenient evaluation would be the nurse’s progress or lack of progress toward the achievement of the goals established in the planning phase.
With the aim of Faye Abdellah in formulating a clear categorization of patient’s problems as health needs, she rather conceptualized nurses’ actions in nursing care which is contrary to her aim. Nurses roles were defined to alleviate the problems assessed through the proposed problem-solving approach.
The problem-solving approach introduced by Abdellah has the advantage of increasing the nurse’s critical and analytical thinking skills since the care to be provided would be based on sound assessment and validation of findings.
One can identify that the framework is strongly applied to individuals as the focus of nursing care. The inclusion of an aggregate of people such as the community or society would make the theory of Abdellah more generalizable since nurses do not only provide one-person service especially now that the community healthcare level is sought to have higher importance than curative efforts in the hospital.
The following are the strengths of Faye Abdellah’s “21 Nursing Problems” theory.
The following are the limitations of Faye Abdellah’s “21 Nursing Problems” theory.
Abdellah ‘s typology of 21 nursing problems is a conceptual model mainly concerned with patient’s needs and the role of nurses in problem identification using a problem analysis approach.
According to the model, patients are described as having physical, emotional, and sociological needs. People are also the only justification for the existence of nursing. That is, without people, nursing would not be a profession since they are the recipients of nursing.
Patient-centered approaches to nursing health are described as a state mutually exclusive of illness. Abdellah does not provide a definition of health but speaks to “total health needs” and “a healthy state of mind and body” in her description of nursing.
However, Abdellah rather conceptualized nurses’ actions in nursing care which is contrary to her aim of formulating a clear categorization of patient’s problems as health needs. Nurses roles were defined to alleviate the problems assessed through the proposed problem-solving approach.
As a whole, the theory is intended to guide care not just in the hospital setting, but can also be applied to community nursing, as well. The model has interrelated concepts of health and nursing problems, as well as problem-solving, which is an activity inherently logical in nature.
Furthermore, the 21 nursing problems progressed to a second-generation development referred to as patient problems and patient outcomes. Abdellah educated the public on AIDS, drug addiction, violence, smoking, and alcoholism. Her work is a problem-centered approach or philosophy of nursing.
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With contributions by Wayne, G. (for Biography), Vera, M.