Holistic nursing is healing the whole person. It encompasses care of not only the body, but also the mind and spirit. Since 2006, holistic nursing has been recognized as an "official nursing specialty" by the American Nurses Association, with its own defined scope and standards of practice.
"Holistic nursing serves as a foundation for any specialty," says Christina Jackson, Ph.D., RN, NP, AHN-C, who is professor and curriculum chair at Eastern University's Department of Nursing in St. Davids, Penn. Jackson was recently honored as Holistic Nurse of the Year by the American Holistic Nursing Association (AHNA) for her contributions in furthering the practice of holistic nursing and bringing caring and healing to the forefront of nursing.
While it is a relatively new specialty, the holistic approach to healing has been around for a long time. Florence Nightingale, known as a pioneer and the founder of modern nursing, is also considered to be one of the first holistic nurses. The AHNA notes, "Florence Nightingale recognized the importance of caring for the whole person and encouraged interventions that enhanced individuals' abilities to draw upon their own healing powers. She considered touch, light, aromatics, empathetic listening, music, quiet reflection, and similar healing measures as essential ingredients to good nursing care."
Holistic nursing as a specialty draws on nursing knowledge, theories, expertise and intuition to guide nurses in becoming therapeutic partners with people in their care. According to the AHNA, which has more than 6,000 members, this practice recognizes the totality of the human being -- the interconnectedness of body, mind, emotion, spirit, society, culture, relationships, context, and environment.
Holistic nursing extends beyond patient care, as it also involves self care. Nurses learn the importance of taking care of themselves -- physically, emotionally and spiritually -- so that they can be more effective caregivers.
Jackson notes, "If more nurses embrace holistic nursing as part of their training, certification and approach to care, it would be so refreshing and rejuvenating for them personally and professionally." Most nursing environments and situations are physically and emotionally demanding. "A holistic approach to nursing and life in general improves a nurse's ability to be fully present, fully aware. This 'mindfulness' really improves accuracy and safety of care."
Registered nurses can become certified as holistic nurses through the American Holistic Nurses' Certification Corporation. Most holistic nurses work in hospital settings or private practice, though some may work in academic and research organizations. Holistic nursing is not modality specific; nurses in all practice areas, from pediatrics and oncology to psychiatric and OR nurses, can incorporate a holistic philosophy in their work.
"Holistic nursing is finally coming into its own. Organizations will be seeking nurses who have holistic experience. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) is now mandating spiritual care and most nurses don't know how to provide it. The Institute of Medicine is talking about more holistic approaches to health care. Nurses who start to acknowledge, live and practice holistic care are putting themselves in a great position," concludes Jackson.