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September 9, 2013
Date of last revision January 30, 2012


  • Systems theory may be considered as a specialization of systems thinking and a generalization of systems science.

  • First proposed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972) as General Systems theory.

  • General systems theory is a general science of 'wholeness'.

  • Systems theory has been applied in developing nursing theories and conducting nursing research.

Characteristics of systems

  • "Systems" refer specifically to self-regulating systems.

  • Systems are self-correcting through feedback.

  • Systems have a structure that is defined by its parts and processes.

  • Systems are generalizations of reality.

  • The various parts of a system have functional as well as structural relationships between each other.

  • Systems tend to function in the same way.

  • Every living organism is essentially an open system.

Systems theory and Nursing

  • Many nursing theorists have drwan from the works of von Bertalanffy on systems theory.

    • Neuman's Systems Theory

    • Rogers 's Theory of Unitary Huamn Beings

    • Roy's Adaptation Model

    • Imogene King's Theory of Goal Attainement

    • Orem Self-care Deficit Theory

    • Johnson's Behaviour Systems Model


  1. Bertalanffy, LV. (1968). General system theory: Foundations, development, applications. New York: George Braziller.

  2. Bertalanffy, LVon. (1974). Perspectives on General System Theory Edited by Edgar Taschdjian. George Braziller, New York.

  3. Jarrin, Olga F., "An Integral Philosophy and Definition of Nursing" (2007). School of Nursing Scholarly Works. Paper 47. http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/son_articles/47


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