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What is Holistic Nursing?

Holistic Nursing is defined as “all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal” (American Holistic Nurses’ Association, 1998). Florence Nightingale, who is considered to be the founder of Holistic Nursing, taught nurses to focus on the principles of holism: unity, wellness and the interrelationship of human beings and their environment.

Holistic Nursing is not merely something we do. It is also an attitude, a philosophy and a way of being that requires nurses to integrate self-care, self-responsibility, spirituality, and reflection in their lives. This often leads the nurse to greater awareness of the interconnectedness of self, others, nature, spirit and relationship with the global community.

For More Information:
Holistic Nursing: A Way of Being, a Way of Living, a Way of Practice Article by Lucia Thornton RN, MSN, AHN-BC

Holistic Nursing Is a Nursing Specialty

Holistic nursing is recognized by the American Nurses Association (ANA) as a nursing specialty with a defined scope and standards of practice by which all holistic nurses are held accountable. Holistic nursing is based upon:

  • A unique body of knowledge
  • Evidence-based research
  • Sophisticated skills
  • Defined standards of practice
  • A diversity of modalities from a broad range of health practices
  • A philosophy of living and being that is grounded in caring, relationship and interconnectedness

Why Is Specialty Status Important?

ANA recognition as a nursing specialty distinguishes holistic nursing from general nursing practice by acknowledging holistic nursing’s unique contribution to the health and healing of people and society. Specialty status provides both nurses and the public with greater clarity, sets a foundation for holistic practice, and strengthens the voice of the entire profession. It also helps holistic nurses articulate, explore and develop who they are. 


 Nursing certifications distinguish nurses as experts in nursing practice, education and research. Certifications in Holistic Nursing and Nurse Coaching are available through the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC) which is a separate organization from the AHNA. These certification examinations are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification [ABSNC] and are recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center [ANCC] Magnet Program. Holistic nursing is unique in that it can be practiced within all other nursing specialties by applying the principles of holism to client care.

Holistic Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice

Holistic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice, Second Edition (2019), co-published with ANA, defines what holistic nursing is, what holistic nurses do, and the responsibilities for which holistic nurses are accountable. 

Holistic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice is an essential resource for nurses and others in related healthcare work, including care providers, educators, researchers and administrators, and those involved in funding, legal, policy and regulatory activities. The holistic nursing scope and standards of practice can deeply influence nursing practice. These standards:

  • Provide schools and universities with a template for curricula and influence the development of continuing education programs
  • Validate research and attract research funds
  • Provide for recognition by state boards of nursing
  • Describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities that hospitals and other health care agencies can expect from the nurses they hire
  • Help the professional practice regulate itself 

Click here to purchase the Holistic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice book through the AHNA online store.

What Is a Holistic Nurse?

Holistic nurses are legally licensed nurses who use nursing knowledge, theories, expertise and intuition to recognize and care for the totality of the human being within the scope and standards of their state and the Holistic Nursing specialty. Holistic nurses nurture wholeness, peace and healing by valuing each person's physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and environmental strengths and challenges and honoring each person’s values, health beliefs and health experience. The condition of the whole person is taken into account during the nurse's assessment, diagnosis, planning, intervention and evaluation of the results. 

Holistic nurses use holistic principles and modalities in their daily life and in clinical practice to remove the barriers to the healing process and create a space within and around themselves that allow them to be instruments of healing as they share their authenticity, caring presence and nursing skills to facilitate the birth, growth, recovery or end-of-life transition with all people who need their care. Holistic nurses work in all healthcare settings including hospitals, universities and private practices. 

They bring a holistic, complementary and integrative focus to their work, practice what they preach and understand that failure to care for themselves reduces their ability to care for others. Holistic nurses help individuals and groups access their greatest healing potential across mainstream and complementary systems. Many holistic nurses specialize in one or more  complementary, alternative or integrative healing modalities and maintain qualifications to practice these modalities in their state in conjunction with practicing holistic nursing.