Holistic Care in Nursing

Nurse students practicing holistic care with a dummy patient
Nurse students practicing holistic care with a dummy patient

The health care industry is undergoing widespread change driven by the demands and effects of COVID-19, the sweeping nursing shortages in the United States and the increased need for health services caused by the aging baby boomer population.

In addition to these challenges, chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States and produce over $3.5 trillion in health care costs every year. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are largely a result of lifestyle choices like poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and tobacco use.

A fitting solution to this epidemic is the adoption of holistic health care, a practice that denotes that prevention is the best intervention. Nurses enrolled in an online MSN-FNP degree at Marymount University learn the principles and application of holistic care, a value-based practice designed to enhance the lifestyle and health of patients.

Nurses educated in holistic care are better equipped at improving a patient’s lifestyle choices and enhancing determinants of health, the personal, economic, social and environmental factors that influence health status.

Holistic care in nursing could increase the adoption of preventative health, improve lifestyle choices among patients, reduce the burden of chronic illnesses on the United States health care system and create a brighter future for Americans.


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What Is Holistic Care?

When the term “holistic” is used in medicine it refers to “the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.” Holistic care is an approach to health care that addresses the patient’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. This type of care is comprehensive; rather than aiming to treat illness, holistic care aims to enhance the overall well-being and quality of life of an individual.


Common Holistic Care Therapies

Western medicine focuses on the treatment of illness and disease using drugs, radiation or surgery. Integrative medicine incorporates additional therapies to supplement mainstream practices. According to Registered Nursing, the following represent several common holistic care therapies:

  • Acupuncture
  • Assist patients in stress management techniques
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massage
  • Hypnosis, hydrotherapy, and balneotherapy
  • Chinese and Eastern healing practices
  • Wellness coaching


The Principles of Holistic Care

Holistic care is a value-based approach to health care that focuses on the importance of dignity and respect in the act of administering care. The Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) outlined the core principles of holistic care that simplify the values surrounding integrative medicine:

  • “Prevention is the best intervention”
  • “Integration of healing systems is effective”
  • “Holistic medicine is relationship-centered care”
  • “Care should be individualized”
  • “Teach by example”
  • “Healing powers are innate”
  • “All experiences are learning opportunities”
  • “Embrace the healing power of love”
  • “Optimal health is the primary goal”

The AIHM is a global community of health professionals that advocates for “evidence-informed comprehensive, affordable, sustainable person-centered care.” Health care educators and advanced nursing programs are starting to teach value-based care that teaches nurses how to put the principles of holistic care into practice.


What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of a Holistic Nurse?

A holistic nurse has a responsibility to apply the principles of holistic care to patients within their practice. A holistic nurse may administer the same health care services as a traditional RN, but they differ in their method of delivery. Holistic nurses deliver care in the following ways:

  • Compassionate: Holistic nurses are attentive, present and compassionate toward patients.
  • Comprehensive: Holistic nurses acknowledge the mind, body and spirit by treating the entire person rather than treating one symptom.
  • Curious: Holistic nurses believe that a variety of factors affect health, from environmental influences to dietary choices. As a result, they ask their patients questions about their overall lifestyle.


The History of Holistic Care in Medicine

The history of holistic care illustrates the progression of health care and the importance of education and advocacy in nursing. Nurses should understand the evolution of health care practices so they can contribute to a better future.

In prehistoric times, medical traditions relied on plants, herbs and patient-centered experiences to manage health. The AMA Journal of Ethics outlined a brief history of holistic care and integrative medicine. In the early days of medicine, physical ailments were almost exclusively diagnosed and treated with spiritual interpretations.

This began to change in 400 BCE when the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, studied anatomy and physiology to explain the origin of diseases. Hippocrates’ theories were adopted by physicians centuries later and used to dissect and categorize animal and human functions.

In the early 1600s, health care researchers and physicians primarily viewed the human body as a machine and observed organs and biological systems as cogs in this machine. Medicine became largely empirical, evidence-informed and scientific but neglected the emotional, spiritual and psychological facets of health care.

In the 1800s Florence Nightingale reintroduced the concept of holistic care. Florence Nightingale is considered to be the founder of what is now considered modern holistic nursing. Nightingale was a British nurse, social reformer and trailblazer. She provided value-based care in the 1850s and created the foundation for ethics in nursing.

She recognized that her patients’ needs extended beyond physical manipulation or pharmaceutical medication and significantly reduced the death rate and spread of cholera at the hospital by improving hygiene practices.

In the contemporary health care system, holistic care has become more mainstream. Integrative medicine continues to value evidence-informed, scientific health care research, but it also values the importance of immaterial factors that affect health, such as spiritual well-being and belief systems.

Nurse student examining a male patient


Why Is Holistic Care in Nursing Important?

Holistic care in nursing is important because it’s capable of improving the quality of care for all. Providers and researchers have learned from historical applications of health care and developed a comprehensive model for enhancing the quality of life and health of populations.

According to recent studies, “using the ordinary medical model alone for treatment exposes patients to serious threats, prolongs hospitalization, and raises treatment costs.” Despite these tangible risks, many health care practitioners are still hesitant to administer holistic care.

One study examined the value of spiritual-centered care in palliative settings and found that a patient receiving end-of-life care felt enhanced dignity when treated with emotional and spiritual practices. Despite this, the same study found that in the United States, 67% of people die in long-term care facilities or hospitals without access to spiritual care.

In some cases, health care providers want to provide holistic care but struggle to transfer theoretical knowledge to their practice. Nursing students are unable to bridge the gap from academic studies to clinical settings and require schools that provide clinical placement services and on-campus residency to better teach these practical skills.

Overall, holistic care in nursing is important to enhance the health of all populations, improve preventative care, reduce treatment costs and encourage respect for the dignity and humanity of those receiving care.


Benefits of Holistic Care in Nursing

Adopting and practicing holistic care in nursing can result in benefits for patients, health care providers and health care systems. In the foreword of the book “Consciousness and Healing: Integral Approaches to Mind-Body Medicine”, Ken Wilber states, “Integral medicines go one step further: it treats the illness, the patient and the physician.”

The many advantages of holistic care serve nearly every facet of health care and allow Americans to envision an inclusive health care system. The use of holistic care in a medical setting can:

  • Help destigmatize mental health care
  • Honor the body’s natural healing intelligence
  • Respect cultural differences and traditional healing methods
  • Teach the value of preventative health
  • Decrease the use of invasive procedures
  • Shed light on economic, social and political barriers in health
  • Empower practitioners to bring their humanity to health care


What Nurses Learn From Value-Based Nursing Programs

Holistic care is essential, but how do we start applying theoretical models of integrative practices to real-world settings? The most important tool in the adoption of holistic care is education. Advanced nursing degrees grounded in value-based care help nursing students learn compassionate practices.

Marymount University offers an online MSN-FNP degree that combines evidence-informed theoretical knowledge with value-based holistic care. Nursing students enrolled in an MSN-FNP degree with Marymount University learn a mixture of analytical and practical skills.


Research and Analysis

Students enrolled in Marymount’s MSN-FNP program learn how to use health care technologies, research theoretical health care models and apply evidence-informed results to their practice. Courses like “Innovative Models of Care Delivery” teach nursing students how to continuously amend and improve processes based on data. Students learn how to:

  • Apply population health data to aggregate populations
  • Use epidemiology and statistics in care delivery
  • Explore, analyze and apply biostatistics
  • Apply advanced pathophysiology, pharmacology and physical assessment practices


Leadership and Advocacy

The MSN-FNP program prioritizes leadership skills and encourages nurses to advocate for the high quality of care for their patients. Courses like “Leadership, Quality and Ethics in Health Care” emphasize a nurse’s moral agency and ethical responsibility. Nurses interested in entering leadership positions in hospital settings can readily translate these skills into their practice. Students learn how to:

  • Navigate ethical and legal decision-making
  • Practice within the current standards and government regulations
  • Act as an advocate for patient care
  • Embody leadership roles through interprofessional collaboration


Compassionate Care

Holistic care is just as focused on the delivery of health care as it is with health care itself. Marymount University is rooted in Catholic values and guided by a mission to promote intellectual and spiritual development, live ethically responsible lives and enrich the greater community through service and compassionate care. Students learn how to:

  • Exhibit compassion, respect and dignity while delivering care
  • Support quality improvement for patients
  • Connect and communicate with patients and the patients’ families
  • Understand and apply ethics in health care


Start Your Nursing Career at Marymount University

The entry-level option for students with non-nursing undergraduate degrees is the Online ABSN. In just 16 months, Online ABSN students complete the following requirements in preparation for RN careers:

  • An on-campus residency
  • Clinical placements in Virginia
  • 100% online courses on topics like Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Marymount’s ABSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Nursing courses at Marymount are taught by practicing APRNs who can speak with authority about the profession. The university’s stellar reputation is confirmed by top U.S. News & World Report rankings in its National Universities and Nursing categories. 

If you want to become an RN, contact one of our student advisors to discuss if this program is right for you.


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