Which of the following is a holistic nurse: a nurse practitioner working in an academic cancer center, a staff nurse in a long-term care facility, a nurse educator, a wellness coach, a neonatal intensive care clinical nurse specialist, a stress management consultant, a geriatric case manager, a pediatric nurse?
Who is the holistic nurse? All of them!
The American Association of Holistic Nurses defines holistic nursing as “all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal”. (American Holistic Nurses’ Association, 1998, Description of Holistic Nursing ).
Many of us entered the nursing profession with this goal in mind, but somehow through specialization, increased work load and technical demands, we have diverged from this original goal.
As increased specialization has occurred in healthcare, patients are seen as a number of parts, without much attention paid to the whole person. We, as human beings, are much more than the sum of our parts, and are much more than the particular diagnosis by which we are defined by the health care system. The practice of holistic nursing seeks to care for the total human being: body, mind and spirit, by recognizing the dynamic interconnectedness of these domains.
Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, is considered to be one of the first holistic nurses. She believed that nursing care should be focused on unity, wellness and the interrelationship of human beings and their environment. The philosophy of caring for the total human being is the essence of holistic nursing and for that reason it can be practiced in multiple care settings.
Finding the Holistic Nurse
Many nurses who embrace holistic concepts of nursing care work in acute care settings, while others may be community based or have their own private practice. Holistic nurses integrate complementary or integrative modalities into their plan of care, recognizing that the healing process involves helping to facilitate and honor the individual patient's values and beliefs about health and illness.
Holistic nursing received specialty designation in 2006 when it was officially recognized by the American Nurses Association  as a defined nursing specialty. Like other nursing specialties, holistic nursing has its own body of knowledge, standards of nursing practice, and evidence-based research. But, unlike other specialties, holistic nursing calls upon nurses to integrate self-care, reflection, and the healing process in their own lives as they care for patients.
The holistic nurse recognizes the interconnectedness of health and illness and strives to facilitate healing the body, mind and spirit at any point along the life spectrum. Holistic nursing has been called the heart and science of nursing. I am pleased to call myself a holistic nurse and have been board certified in holistic nursing since 2006.
An active professional organization, the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) has an informative website (www.ahna.org) with more information about the specialty of holistic nursing, resources and information about board certification in the specialty The ANHA hosts an annual convention, as well as facilitates local networking groups for nurses interested in holistic nursing.
Return to the heart of nursing, become a holistic nurse.