What is Holistic Nursing?

I love being a Nurse and I enjoy my job in the hospital, even though it is part of the conventional health care system. I often get asked how I manage to practice Holistic Nursing in a Conventional Hospital. I receive questions like, “How can you work in a hospital as a holistic nurse, doesn’t it go against your values?” or “How do you not go crazy giving pharmaceutical medications and treating a patient with Conventional Medicine when you are a Holistic Nurse?” or “Isn’t there a naturopathic clinic you would rather work at?”

The reality is, in today’s modern world, the majority of nursing positions are within a hospital or clinic setting. However, Holistic Nursing isn’t just a job, it is a way of being and for me, as a RN in a hospital, it’s all about finding the balance between holistic nursing and conventional nursing.

On one side of the balance scale, I provide standardized nursing care according to hospital specific policies and procedures and in accordance with my state’s Nurse Practice Act. On the other side of the balance scale, I incorporate complementary, alternative or integrative modalities (CAM) into my clinical practice to help treat the whole person – body, mind and spirit. By adding holistic modalities into my nursing practice, it does not negate the validity of conventional medicine, but rather acts as a complement, enriching the scope of nursing practice and helps each patient reach their potential for healing.

As an ICU Nurse, I am constantly dealing with machines, medications, alarms, procedures, supplies and various doctors orders in order to keep my patient alive or while recovering from an extensive surgery. While providing my critical care nursing interventions, I mix in mindfulness, therapeutic listening, aromatherapy, Healing Touch and/or Reiki to my practice.

For example, I’ll give Morphine for pain relief and also provide a quick Healing Touch or Reiki technique to reduce pain and help the medicine work better. For patients who can’t sleep and don’t want a sleeping pill, I can offer them a Healing Touch technique that promotes relaxation and often times patients will fall fast asleep afterward. Sometimes Holistic Nursing is as simple as being present with my patient or listening to their story. I often place my hand on my patient’s hand or shoulder while actively listening to them express their fears, concerns and thoughts. Offering emotional support and wellness education to patients and their families is also a way I practice Holistic Nursing.

Another way I practice Holistic Nursing in the hospital setting is to promote holism within my unit.

I have become known as a leader in Holistic Nursing within my hospital because I am constantly promoting wellness and self-care to my co-workers and other health care providers in my hospital. I lead by example and stand by the saying, “In order to effectively care for others, we must first care for ourselves.” Just like on the plane when they instruct you to place your own oxygen mask first, the same rule applies to self-care. I signed up as a Wellness Champion, with my hospital’s Wellness Program, so I work with the leadership team to promote activities and host events that are centered around Self-Care for the Care Giver.

In November 2017 I obtained my certification as a Board Certified Holistic Nurse through American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation. As part of the Holistic Nursing Certification process, the American Holistic Nurses Association requires nurses to integrate self-care, self-responsibility, spirituality, and reflection in their lives. By doing this, I have gained a greater awareness of the interconnectedness with self, others, nature, and spirit. This awareness has enhanced my understanding of individuals and their relationships to the human and global community. Using my awareness and experience in nursing, I feel I am able to promote and facilitate the healing process for others and myself. I am enjoying the integration of my personal healing journey and like Florence Nightingale, I am here to be a service to others, to spread healing light through nursing.

Every day sanitary knowledge, or the knowledge of nursing, or in other words, of how to put the constitution in such a state as that it will have no disease, or that it can recover from disease, takes a higher place. It is recognized as the knowledge which every one ought to have – distinct from medical knowledge, which only a profession can have.” – Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing

Brief history and definitions of Holistic Nursing:

  1. The founder of Modern Nursing, Florence Nightingale (who is also considered the first Holistic Nurse). In February 1837, as young woman, Florence Nightingale went through a series of experiences that she believed were calls from God, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others as a nurse. Despite her family’s opposition to her working as a nurse, she announced the decision to enter the nursing field in 1844. She rebelled against society’s expected role for a woman of her status, to become a wife and mother and instead worked hard to educate herself in the Art and Science of Nursing. In the 1850s she took the position of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in London, leading her to later open her own nursing schools and hospitals. Florence Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing – the curriculum for the Nightingale School – which is actually an essential hand-book for Holistic Nursing! I am currently reading it and find it very inspiring and full of practical, holistic guidance.
  2. The American Holistic Nurse’s Association (AHNA) defines Holistic Nursing as, all nursing that has healing the whole person as its goal and integrates complementary and alternative approaches (CAM) into clinical practice. Holistic Nursing is recognized by AHNA as an official nursing speciality with its own defined scope and standards of practice. A Holistic Nurse is a licensed Registered Nurse who takes a mind-body-spirit-emotion approach to the Practice of Nursing. Holistic Nurses bridge the gap between conventional healing and CAM healing practices. They have been trained in both health care models and work in a variety of settings from the hospital to universities to private practices. A Holistic Nurse is able to incorporate past experiences and intuition into the nursing process. Holistic Nurses may also specialize in one or more modality (method of healing) such as energetic healing, aromatherapy or acupuncture.
  3. The World Health Organization defines Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) as the adaptations of traditional medicine to current health practices. CAM applies traditional medicine practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs into health care; incorporating plant, animal and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises. These practices can be applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being. Holistic Nurses are able to integrate CAM into clinical practices to treat the patient’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

For Holistic Nursing Resources, click here.

To find out how you can follow your heart and become a Board Certified Holistic Nurse, check out the AHNCC’s website.

Membership to the American Holistic Nurses Association is open to anyone, you do not have to be a nurse to join!

For information on your State’s Nurse Practice Act in regards to Holistic Nursing, click here.

my first holistic nursing bag and supplies for my private practice circa 2013

2 thoughts on “What is Holistic Nursing?

  1. Maxine says:

    I love this! I am a nurse and I have chosen to work in the geriatric section. I am really wanting to work with holistic and natural medicine. I am not happy with all the medication given on a daily basis to the patients. There are so many ways to approach a problem with aromatherapy or a healing touch. Drugs are not always the answer. I am hoping to one day have my own nursing home – a holistic and natural nursing home. Only chronic medication is to be given.


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