Her theory defined Nursing as “The act of assisting others in the provision and management of self-care to maintain or improve human functioning at home level of effectiveness.” It focuses on each individual’s ability to perform self-care, defined as “the practice of activities that individuals initiate and perform on their own behalf in maintaining life, health, and well-being.”
Orem was born in July 15, 1914 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father was a construction worker and her mother is a homemaker. She was the youngest among two daughters.
In the early 1930s, she earned her nursing diploma from the Providence Hospital School of Nursing in Washington, D.C. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1939 and her Master’s of Science in Nursing in 1945, both from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Orem attended Seton High School in Baltimore, and graduated in 1931. She received a diploma from the Providence Hospital School of Nursing in Washington, D.C. in 1934 and went on to the Catholic University of America to earn a B.S. in Nursing Education in 1939, and an M.S. in Nursing Education in 1945.
She had a distinguished career in nursing. She earned several Honorary Doctorate degrees. She was given Honorary Doctorates of Science from both Georgetown University in 1976 and Incarnate Word College in 1980. She was given an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1988, and a Doctorate Honoris Causae from the University of Missouri in Columbia in 1998.
Main Article: Dorothea Orem’s Self-Care Theory
Orem’s theory focuses on each “individual’s ability to perform self-care, defined as ‘the practice of activities that individuals initiate and perform on their own behalf in maintaining life, health, and well-being.'”
The Self-Care or Self-Care Deficit Theory of Nursing is composed of three interrelated theories: (1) the theory of self-care, (2) the self-care deficit theory, and (3) the theory of nursing systems, which is further classified into wholly compensatory, partial compensatory and supportive-educative.
According to Orem, “The condition that validates the existence of a requirement for nursing in an adult is the absence of the ability to maintain continuously that amount and quality of self-care which is therapeutic in sustaining life and health, in recovering from disease or injury, or in coping with their effects. With children, the condition is the inability of the parent (or guardian) to maintain continuously for the child the amount and quality of care that is therapeutic.”
Orem occupied important nursing positions, like the directorship of both the nursing school and the department of nursing at Providence Hospital, Detroit from 1940 to 1949, where she also taught biological sciences and nursing from 1939 to 1941. At the Catholic University of America, Orem served as Assistant Professor from 1959 to 1964, Associate Professor from 1964 to 1970, and Dean of the School of Nursing from 1965 to 1966.
She also served as curriculum consultant to The Office of Education, United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Practical Nurse Section in 1958, 1959, and 1960, to the Division of Hospital and Institutional Services, The Indiana State Board of Health from 1949 to 1957, and to the Center for Experimentation and Development in Nursing, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, 1969-1971, and to the Director of Nursing, Wilmer Clinic, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, 1975-1976.
She was a member of the group of nurse theorists who presented Patterns of Unitary Man (Humans), the initial framework for nursing diagnosis, to the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association in 1982.
Orem helped publish the “Guidelines for Developing Curricula for the Education of Practical Nurses” in 1959.
In 1971 Orem published Nursing: Concepts of Practice, the work in which she outlines her theory of nursing, the Self-care Deficit Theory of Nursing. The success of this work and the theory it presents established Orem as a leading theorist of nursing practice and education.
She also served as chairperson of the Nursing Development Conference Group, and in 1973 edited that group’s work in the book Concept Formalization in Nursing.
She authored many other papers and during the 1970s and 1980s spoke at numerous conferences and workshops around the world. The International Orem Society was founded to foster research and the continued development of Orem’s theories of nursing.
The second edition of Nursing: Concept of Practice was published in 1980. Orem retired in 1984 but she continued to work on the third edition which was published in 1985; fourth edition of her book was completed in 1991. She continued to work on the conceptual development of Self-Care Deficit Nursing Theory.
Orem continued to be active in theory development. She completed the 6th edition of Nursing: Concepts of Practice, published by Mosby in January 2001.
Awards and Honors
Orem was also given many awards during her career: the Catholic University of America Alumni Achievement Award for Nursing Theory in 1980, the Linda Richards Award from the National League for Nursing in 1991, and was named an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing in 1992.
She also received accolades for her contributions to the field of nursing, including honorary degrees from Georgetown University, Incarnate Word College, Illinois Wesleyan University, and the University of Missouri-Columbia.
She was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing, and received awards from the National League for Nursing and the Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society.
Orem died on June 22, 2007 in Savannah, Georgia, where she had spent the last 25 years of her life as a consultant and author. She was 92.
- “Obituary: Dorothea Elizabeth Orem”, Savannah Morning News, June 24, 2007, retrieved June 17, 2014
- Taylor, Carol R.; Lillis, Carol; LeMone, Priscilla; Lynn, Pamela (2011). Fundamentals of Nursing. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-7817-9383-4.
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