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Biography of Dorothea Orem

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Dorothea Orem was born in Baltimore, Maryland and spent her early life there. After earning degrees from the Providence Hospital School of Nursing and Catholic University of America, where she earned a BS in Nursing Education and an MS in Nursing Education, she practiced nursing at Providence Hospital and St. John’s Hospital. In 1945 she began to focus her career on nursing education. She worked as the director of Providence Hospital School of Nursing in Detroit and served in various positions, including:

  • Assistant Professor
  • Associate Professor
  • Dean of Nursing at Catholic University of AmericaBiography of Dorothea Orem

Orem is best known for developing the Self-Care Deficit Nursing Theory and the General Theory of Nursing. Her 1971 paper Nursing: Concepts of Practice outlined her research on the importance of self-care and was followed by several papers that addressed specific areas of her theory. Her tireless work made her a hero of the nursing community, and she was asked to give lectures at numerous universities and hospitals. She also received awards and recognitions from such esteemed organizations as the Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society and the National League for Nursing. The International Orem Society has continued developing effective concepts for nursing. Dorothea Orem passed away in 2007. The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives holds a collection of Orem’s personal papers.

Looking at the basic tenets of Orem’s theory, one can make the observation that Orem saw human beings as fully functioning beings that were capable of self-care. Self-care is viewed as the basic practices that the adult must perform to ensure his or her general well-being. Orem further felt that self-care behavior was learned behavior that had been acquired over the course of a lifetime. Despite the fact that Orem believed that most individuals actively engaged in self-care she noted that there were times in the individual’s life when he or she needed help in the process of self-care. This led to the intervention of the nurse.

Examining the specific components of Orem’s theory, research papers reveal that the theory has been broken into three sub-theories:

  1. Self-care deficit
  2. Self-care
  3. Nursing systems

With this in mind, it is useful to examine each of the components so that the full context of the theory can be understood. Beginning with self-care deficit, Comley goes on to report that Orem believed that there were specific implements of an individual’s environment that may impeded their healthcare efforts. As such, the individual may benefit from the intervention of the nurse and the “augmentation of their own self-care efforts.” The self-care sub-theory examines the process of self-care. According to Comley Orem viewed self-care as “learned behavior which act to regulate human structural integrity, functioning and development”. The nursing system is created when the nurse intervenes and creates a system that allows the patient to develop better self-care practices.

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