Dorothy Johnson - Behavioral Systems Model

Nursing is fundamental in the delivery of effective healthcare. Dorothy Johnson indicates the importance of nursing as a way of illness eradication in a society. I chose the theorist in order to understand the importance of research-based knowledge and the effects of nursing care to patients.

Background of Dorothy Johnson

She was born on 21st August 1919 in Savannah, Georgia among 6 other children. In 1938, Dorothy graduated with an Associate of Arts degree from Armstrong Junior College in Georgia, after which she took one year off from schooling owing to the Great Depression. During this time, she taught two children in Miami, Florida, where she realized her passion for nursing, children and education.

Dorothy Johnson then joined Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and graduated in 1942 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, and then Master’s Degree in Public Health from Harvard University in 1948. She was then employed in Public Health Nursing for one year before joining Vanderbilt University as a teacher.

Five years later, she moved to the University of California as an instructor for pediatrics before retiring in 1978 (Holaday, 2017). As a professional, she received many honors including the Graduate Students’ Faculty Award (1975), Lulu Hassenplug Distinguished Achievement Award (1977), and the School of Nursing Award of Excellence from Vanderbilt University (1981).

Based on her career path and theory of Behavioral System Model, I have learnt that her passion for nursing and children care led to the inception of the Behavioral Systems Model, which is an extension of childcare to patient’s care.

The Fascinating fact about Dorothy Johnson

The theorist expanded her passion for education, nursing and children by creating a theory that aims to explain how individuals respond to stress and the importance of nursing to patient care. 


According to Alligood (2017), Johnson was inspired by several nursing theorists, like Seyle, Nightingale, Chin, Grinker, and Buckley. Nightingale believed that appropriate household management was important in healing, and nursing care related to the environment associated with the ill. This idea made Johnson to stress the importance of nursing in patient care. Seyle on the other hand worked extensively on the relationship between stress and body functionality. This inspired Johnson to explain how an individual responds to illness stress.

Relationship with the Four Concepts in the Metaparadigm.

This theory relates to the four concepts in Metaparadigm in the following ways as indicated by HOLADAY (2015);

  1. Nursing. The theory views nursing as an external force that is of significance in maintaining behavior system balance in case an individual is ill. 
    1. Person. Human beings are characterized by two systems, the behavioral and biological systems. Medicine and nursing should extensively focus on biological and behavioral systems respectively.
    1. Health. The theory indicates that this is an adaptive response, both mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally to the outer and inner stimuli with the sole purpose of maintaining comfort and stability. Without balance, an individual is most likely to experience poor health.
    1. Environment. The behaviors of individuals are impacted by the activities in the environment in which they exist.

Nursing in the current clinical setting borrows a lot from this theory, though the practice of nursing in many ways has adapted the theory’s medicine function. Currently, nurses perform many biological system-related situations, which the theory highlighted that should extensively be covered by medicine.

Application of the Behavioral System theory to Nursing Practice today

The theory has various applications in the nursing realm, which includes in education, research, administration and clinical setting. It has been useful in transforming the intentions of nursing graduate programs to practitioner and clinical nurse specialists from administration and teaching programs. This has helped promote nursing professionalism and distinguish the discipline (Holaday, 2017). The University of California, University of Colorado and California State University are among the institutions that have used the model as a guide in nursing education.

It has as well been used in creating patient’s nursing interventions in clinics. For instance, in creating guides for adult patients with distorted body image, and a guide for stroke patients with hemiplegia.


Alligood, M. R. (2017). Nursing Theorists and Their Work-E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Gonzalo, A. (2014). Dorothy Johnson: Behavioral System Model (Study Guide). Retrieved from

HOLADAY, B. (2015). Dorothy Johnson’s behavioral system model and its applications. Nursing Theories Nursing Practice, 104.

Holaday, B. (2017, May). School of Nursing University of California, Los Angeles, California. In Systems Research in Health Care, Biocybernetics and Ecology: Proceedings of the International Congress on Applied Systems Research and Cybernetics (p. 1723). Elsevier.