Holistic Nursing: A Primer

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Ann Real, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse practices holistic nursing with a patient.

Interest in a holistic approach to healthcare has grown among health professionals and members of the general public. Are you among them? If so, a career in holistic nursing could be a great fit for you. Let’s explore the fundamental principles behind this specialty, what makes it unique, typical tasks, useful skills, and more.

What Is Holism in Healthcare?

Holistic healthcare stems from the perspective of holism, in which one addresses the entire system to solve a problem instead of zeroing in on the separate parts. All pieces are interconnected, so each one can only be understood in reference to the whole.

For example, when managing a chief physical complaint, holistic nurses look at what’s directly related to the issue, how it’s impacted by the rest of the body, and vice versa. They also learn about the patient’s emotional, mental, energetic, and spiritual well-being. Furthermore, they assess how the patient’s environment and relationships impact the care they receive.

Holistic Nursing vs. Conventional Nursing

Although nursing has holistic roots, there are notable differences between the conventional and holistic forms of the profession. Holistic nursing takes a systemic approach to health while conventional nursing places more emphasis on the specific symptoms and body parts that are immediately affected.

Holistic nurses typically combine conventional therapies associated with Western medicine and other modalities, such as Eastern practices and other alternative methods. On the other hand, the care provided by nurses who work in conventional medicine typically stay within standard medical practices instead of introducing outside options.

What Is a Holistic Nurse and What Does a Holistic Nurse Do?

Holistic nurses practice holistic nursing theory when providing care and education, incorporating a range of factors related to the patient and their environment. For example, they may assess the patient’s diet, mental health, attitudes towards disease and healing, exercise, preferred medicinal therapies, and more. Their duties may also include:

  • Performing comprehensive patient assessments.
  • Completing documentation of detailed patient history.
  • Making connections between different areas in the patient’s life.
  • Educating the patient on conventional and alternative methods.
  • Suggesting lifestyle changes and helping patients find ways to follow through with them.
  • Administering medications and alternative treatments.

These nurses assist patients with finding the combination of modalities that best fit their needs. Holistic nurses may use these healing modalities to help their patients:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Art therapy
  • Breathwork
  • Energy work
  • Herbal remedies
  • Homeopathic medicines
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Hypnosis
  • Kinesiology
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Wellness education

Where Do Holistic Nurses Work?

Holistic nurses can be found in a variety of environments, including facilities that hire conventional nurses, and more. Some of those facilities include:

  • Inpatient hospitals
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Private practices
  • Complementary therapy centers

Holistic Nurse Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical salary for registered nurses is $89,010 per year, ranging between $61,250 to $129,400. You can expect to earn a salary within that range as a holistic nurse. Keep in mind that what you earn will vary based on your location, facility, years of experience, or the success of your personal business.

How to Become a Holistic Nurse

Becoming a holistic nurse requires you to follow the preliminary steps that all nurses must take. Afterwards, your path is up to you.

Step 1: Complete Nursing School

Nursing school is where you learn the basics of the profession and get a taste of different nursing specialties. If you’re confident in your desire to practice as a holistic nurse before enrolling, consider one of many holistic nursing programs endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC).

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX

The NCLEX exam tests you on the knowledge you accumulated as a nursing student. Once you’ve passed, you’ll be able to apply for licensure in your state and practice as a registered nurse.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Although you can enter holistic healthcare as a new grad, acquiring experience outside of this field — like in med-surg or mental health — can help cement your understanding of conventional nursing. Later, you can apply this knowledge in holistic practice when patients require that type of care.

Step 4: Get Your Holistic Nursing Certification

Getting certified deepens your expertise, and shows prospective employers that you’re committed to your field. Check out these certifications from the AHNCC:

Important Skills for Holistic Nurses

Certain specialties require you to cultivate unique traits. Below are some useful skills for holistic nurses.


A multifaceted approach to healthcare requires you to juggle many contributing factors, some of which you may not personally relate to. Empathizing with your patients and showing compassion will make them feel more comfortable, giving you insight into why certain changes are difficult for them.

Broad Perspective

To succeed in this niche, you must be able to identify patterns and connect issues that appear unrelated on the surface. You’ll be required to blend a keen attention to detail with the ability to see the patient from a bird’s-eye view. This will help you recognize how the whole system is impacted by each moving part.

Active Listening

You must pay close attention to everything a patient shares. That’s among the best ways to identify the connections across different aspects of their lives. On top of that, your interest in patients can build rapport and make them feel more confident that you’re committed to their care.


This specialty explores healing modalities that aren’t currently normalized in most Western societies. You must be willing to think outside the box and learn new ways of understanding the human body.

Is Holistic Nursing Up Your Alley?

If this fascinating specialty sounds fulfilling, it may be time to take the next step. Find out how IntelyCare can connect you with the positions you want, and get matched with personalized nursing jobs today.