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Dorothea E. Orem is a nurse from the United States who greatly contributed to nursing theory in the modern medical world. Her newly established theory was known as the Orem Model of nursing or the self-care deficit nursing theory. The Orem Model of nursing emphasizes the importance of self-care as a basic human need and how self-care can be provided or managed to allow patients to recover more effectively.

Young Life and Education

Dorothea Elizabeth Orem was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 15, 1914. Her mother raised her and her older sister while taking care of the home. Her father worked as a construction worker.[1] Orem first attended Seton High School in her home city of Baltimore. She graduated in 1931.

Orem then relocated to Washington, D.C. and enrolled at the Providence Hospital School of Nursing. She graduated in 1934 and continued her education at Catholic University of America. In 1939, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Education. She went on to do her Masters in Nursing Education at Catholic University as well, graduating in 1945.[2]

The Early Nursing Career of Dorothea E. Orem

Dorothea E. Orem found herself in managerial or teaching positions as soon as she received her formal, high education for nursing.

Dorothea Orem began working at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. after receiving her first nursing degree. She practiced there between 1934 and 1936. She then moved to St. John’s Hospital located in Lowell, Massachusetts from 1936 to 1937. Orem returned to D.C.’s Providence Hospital for a year in 1942.

Orem first taught nursing and biological sciences at Providence Hospital School of Nursing based in Detroit, Michigan between 1939 and 1941. After receiving her Masters in Nursing Education, D. Orem started teaching, researching, and work as an administrator. Then from 1945 to 1948, she directed the Providence Hospital School of Nursing.

Nursing education seemed to come naturally to Orem. She soon found herself working as an assistant professor at the Catholic University of America from 1959 to 1964. She quickly moved up the totem pole, becoming an associate professor between 1964 and 1979. She also was named the Dean of the School of Nursing for one year from 1965 to 1966.[3]

Consultation Work

Dorothea Orem brought her Self-Care Deficit Theory of Nursing to hospitals and universities across the world, revolutionizing how patients are treated by nurses.

Dorothea E. Orem did not only work in a hospital or in an academic setting. Orem acted as a nursing consultant and educator at various schools, universities, and nursing departments across the U.S. She did consultation work for The Washington Technical Institute, The Medical College of Virginia, El Paso Community College, Incarnate Word College, Georgetown University, The University of Southern Mississippi, George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology, and The University of Alberta.

Orem’s reputation as an effective and intelligent instructor led to her consulting several governmental organizations at both the state and federal level. She addressed the curriculum of the Indiana State Board of Health’s Division of Hospital and Institutional Services from 1949 to 1957, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s Office of Education from 1958-1960, The Johns Hopkins Hospitals Center for Experimentation and Development in Nursing from 1969-1971, and the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Wilmer Clinic’s Director of Nursing from 1975 to 1976.[4]

The Orem Self-Care Deficit Theory of Nursing

Dorothea Orem developed a new theory for nurses that addressed the patient’s ability to care for themselves after suffering an illness or injury.[5] Orem states: “The condition that validates the existence of a requirement for nursing in an adult is the absence of the ability to maintain continuously that amount and quality of self-care which is therapeutic in sustaining life and health, in recovering from disease or injury, or in coping with their effects. With children, the condition is the inability of the parent (or guardian) to maintain continuously for the child the amount and quality of care that is therapeutic.”[6]

Many different factors can affect these abilities and must be considered by nurses when providing comprehensive care. She referred to this new thought process as the Self-care Deficit Theory of Nursing, which also is known as the Orem Model of Nursing. Orem published the basis for this theory in her book Nursing: Concepts of Practice in 1971. The Self-care Deficit Theory of Nursing earned Orem much acclaim and respect within the medical world. She became a lead theorist in nursing education and practice for the rest of her career. Her book, Nursing: Concepts of Practice, is still widely read today as it enters into its sixth edition. [7]

Self-care involves the patient’s ability to care for their own health, including sufficient air intake, water and food consumption, the elimination of wastes, balancing activity and rest as well as social interactions and solitude. Orem believed nursing should take place anytime an adult cannot properly perform one of these functions for themselves.[8]

The Nursing Development Conference Group elected D. Orem as the group’s chairperson. She edited several works from the group, including the book Concept Formalization in Nursing published in 1973. Orem wrote many papers on nursing theory during the 1970s and 1980s. She also spoke at workshops and conferences across the globe. The nursing world finds her work so significant the International Orem Society was founded to encourage further research and development into Orem’s Model of Nursing.[9]

==Awards, Honors, and Death

Dorothea Orem detailed her Self-Care Deficit Theory of Nursing in her book '''Nursing: Concepts of Practice''', now in its sixth edition.

Dorothea Orem received a variety of awards and honors for her groundbreaking theories in nursing. In 1980, the Catholic University of America bestowed the Alumni Achievement Award for Nursing Theory upon Orem. In 1991, she won the National League for Nursing’s Linda Richards Award. The following year, the American Academy of Nursing made her an Honorary Fellow.

D. Orem received honorary degrees from several high-learning institutions, including the University of Missouri-Columbia (1998), Illinois Wesleyan University (1988), Incarnate Word College (1980), and Georgetown University (1976). Other awards came from the Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society and the National League for Nursing. The American Academy of Nursing also inducted her in the mid-1990s.[10]

Dorothea Elizabeth Orem died on June 22, 2007, at home on Skidaway Island, Chatham County, Georgia. She is buried in the Catholic Cemetery in nearby Savannah.[11] Orem spent the last 25 years of her life in Chatham County as an author and nursing consultant.[12]



Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. (2007). Personal Paper Collections: Dorothea Orem Collection. Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives.[2]
 Orem, D. E. (1995). Nursing: Concepts of Practice (5th ed.). United Kingdom: Mosby-Year Book.

Wayne, G. (2014, August 11). Dorothea Orem - Biography and Works. Nurse Labs: Theorists & Theories.[3]


  1. Wayne, 2014
  2. Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, 2007
  3. Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, 2007
  4. Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, 2007
  5. Wayne, 2014
  6. Orem, 1995
  7. Wayne, 2014
  8. Orem, 1995
  9. Wayne, 2014
  10. Wayne, 2014
  11. Find A Grave. (2008, April 4). Dorothea Elizabeth Orem (1914 - 2007). Find A Grave Memorial[1]
  12. Wayne, 2014

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