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Sunday, January 21, 2018
HomeMedia EngagementHow Narrative Writing Can Help Nurses Cope, De-stress

How Narrative Writing Can Help Nurses Cope, De-stress

This is a re-post written by CHMP senior Fellow Liz Seegert for Health Callings Jobs that Matter.

In a unique writing course at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing in New York City, nurses are relearning to “open up” while also improving their communication skills. The lessons learned at the “Narrative Writing for Nurses” course, taught by two former editors of the “American Journal of Nursing,” can be practiced at home to relieve stress and engage in self-discovery. It can also boost your academic writing skills.Narrative Writing Liz Seegert

How the writing helps

“Many nursing students have strong academic need for remedial writing and making themselves understood, says James Steubenrauch, adjunct instructor and Senior Fellow at Hunter’s Center for Health, Media and Policy. “We try to help them become better writers by using creative or artistic means to engage them in the process.”

Students begin each class with a creative writing prompt and also keep a daily journal. They may react to a poem or piece of nonfiction, or be asked to describe an event. Students write in different genres, and share their work with classmates. Although some are initially reluctant to open up, eventually most find it cathartic, says co-instructor Joy Jacobson.

She says that by bypassing some of the traditional methods of teaching writing, “we’re trying to engage them where art engages people, where music and poetry engage people, and we’re doing that for all the reasons a nursing program would want their students to be better writers, better students, and in fact, better nurses.”

Cerusala Shiba, BSN, decided to enroll in the narrative writing program last term to address her struggle with writing, especially with grammar. It provided much more than a basic “how-to.” (continue here


Written by

Liz Seegert, MA, is the director of the Media Fellows Program at the GW Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement. She has spent more than 30 years reporting and writing about health and other topics for print, digital and broadcast media. Her primary beats currently encompass aging, Baby Boomers, health policy and social determinants of health. She edits the aging topic area for the Association of Health Care Journalists website, writing and gathering resources on the many health issues affecting older adults. She also co-produces the GW Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement “HealthCetera” podcast, diving into health issues underreported in traditional media. As a senior fellow, she will continue to report on vital public health issues, seeking out voices who offer unique perspectives on policy, health care and practice issues. As director of the Media Fellows Program at the center, she mentors early-career health journalists to build their understanding of these and other key issues within the health care delivery system.

Latest comment

  • This is incredibly important work. For RNs returning for a baccalaureate or master’s (or doctoral) degree, writing may be a major challenge. The undergraduate and graduate courses that Joy and Jim teach incorporates a focus on how to improve one’s writing skills. But they approach it quite differently than standard writing courses. They first encourage the nurses to value their voices as expressed both in writing and verbally, when they read what they have written or share the experience of writing it. They also have one-on-one meetings with each student to individualize a plan for improving the student’s writing. This allows the course to address the unique needs of a diverse group of students–from those who desperately fear writing, to those who like to write but do so poorly, to those who are already writers and poets. Kudos to Joy Jacobson and Jim Stubenrauch for their thoughtful development of these courses.

    And their reflective narrative workshops that are not designed to improve writing skills per se are equally powerful. I have participated in a few of the sessions in which they use writing prompts to help the participant explore issues, feelings and thoughts on a deep level. I have always been moved by my own experiences with these reflective exercises, as well as what others have shared.

    This is the kind of work that can help to restore humanism and caring in health care, as well as to prevent burnout. It can help health care providers to reconnect with the meaning and value of their work, and why it’s essential to put the interests of the patient and family at the center of this work.

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