Madeleine Leininger: Founder of Culture Care Theory

Madeleine Leininger: Founder of Culture Care Theory

Madeleine Leininger (1925-2012) was named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing in 1998, and for good reason. The native of Nebraska is largely responsible for raising the discussion of what it means to care as a nurse and she created what is now known as the Cultural Care Theory.

Born of Hard Work

Leininger grew up on a homestead farm and started nursing school in Denver, Colorado, earning her nursing diploma in 1948. She loved to learn and continued her education—first earning the equivalent of a BSN at Creighton University, followed by a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing from the Catholic University of America in 1954.

In 1960, Leininger started her doctoral studies and received a fellowship from the National League of Nursing to study human behavior in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea. She earned a Ph.D. in cultural and social anthropology from the University of Washington in 1966.

Care is Impacted by Cultural Perspective

While working in Gadsup villages in New Guinea, Leininger began to formulate what would later become the theory for which she is still known today. Her belief was that the best nursing care occurs when the nurse understands a patient’s cultural backgrounds and values.

As she went on to work in academia—she joined the faculty of the University of Colorado College of Nursing and returned to the University of Washington from 1969 to 1974 as dean and professor of nursing as well as lecturer in the department of anthropology— Leininger worked to develop models for instructing nurses how to interact with patients from different cultures.

Later in her career, Leininger held positions at the University of Utah and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. From 1981 to 1995, she was a professor of nursing, professor of anthropology and director of the Transcultural Nursing Program and the Center for Health Research at Wayne State.

Culture Care Theory of Diversity and Universality (Culture Care Theory)

Leininger’s Culture Care Theory focuses on the importance of nurses providing culturally consistent nursing care. describes it as happening when “together the nurse and the client creatively design a new or different care lifestyle for the health or well-being of the client.” The theory’s basic concepts include:

  • Care, which assists others with needs
  • Caring, which is an action directed toward providing care
  • Culture, which is the learned, shared and transmitted values, beliefs, norms and lifeways to a specific group/individual that guides their thinking, actions and way of living
  • Culture care diversity, which refers to the different types of care that are acceptable for different groups of people

In essence, Culture Care Theory assumes that care is the essence of nursing and essential to curing and healing. Clients who experience nursing care that is congruent with their beliefs and ways of life will comply with treatment, and care will be more effective.

Multifaceted Care for a Multicultural World

Yolanda Smith, chair of the DNP program at American Sentinel University, says that culture is an important part of the patient care spectrum. “Madeleine Leininger was one of the first nurse leaders to recognize that quality nursing care requires transcultural understanding,” says Dr. Smith. “As nurses, an important goal of patient care is to provide culturally competent care to each patient addressing his/her unique beliefs and values. Cultural competence in nursing means that nurses must modify the environment in order to best meet patients’ needs. This is so important in today’s multicultural world.”

A Prolific Nurse Pioneer

Along with being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, Leininger has written and edited 27 books and is the founder of the Journal of Transcultural Nursing. She is the founder of the Transcultural Nursing Society in 1974, which still exists today. Without question, she made an indelible mark on the field of nursing with her efforts to prepare nurses to study and practice transcultural nursing.

Nurses who strive to follow in the footsteps of this visionary leader should consider furthering their education at American Sentinel University. Our Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs help nurses become culturally competent nurses capable of advancing patient care.

Visit us online or call 866.922.5690 to learn how more about American Sentinel’s BSN, MSN and DNP programs.


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