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Sunday, January 21, 2018
HomeAbout HealthCeteraWriting Reflective Narratives for Clinicians

Writing Reflective Narratives for Clinicians

Joy Jacobson, MFA, our poet-in-residence, co-founded the GW Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement’s program in narrative writing for clinicians. Her workshops seek to enhance participants’ writing ability, help them prevent burnout, and augment their empathy as practitioners.

Clinicians are powerful advocates—“the eyes for those who cannot see and the ears for those who cannot hear,” as one workshop participant put it. Professional caregivers speak on behalf of the voiceless, and yet too few write about their work, in scientific and mainstream venues, in part because they’ve never been taught how to do so.

Joy teaches writing as a process, one that involves a step-by-step discovery, through writing and deep revision, on a topic of the writer’s own choosing. As a medical editor, she appreciates how writing is a process, just as nursing and medicine are. As a poet, she is aware of how metaphor, rhyme, rhythm, compression of story and language can be useful to nonpoets, as well.

Writing as a Reflective Practice

Joy’s aim in guiding clinicians in using reflective, narrative techniques is to enhance their writing ability—as well as their effectiveness as patient advocates, members of interprofessional teams, and policymakers. She uses a narrative approach regardless of whether the focus is on improving scientific writing skills or preventing burnout.

That’s because narrative techniques powerfully engage clinicians in their own writing as a process of discovery.

Such discovery is crucial. Clinician engagement with narrative writing and reading has been shown to improve the care they give, enhance their teamwork, and augment their empathy. These methods do so, as Sayantani DasGupta has said, because “stories are relationships,” and writing about them can restore joy to health care, “an ancient profession that is so much more than a business.”

Writing in Community

Whether in the classroom or online, a writing community provides support as writers explore several types of writing. Participants write stories, respond to literary and scientific works, and compose blog posts, all the while responding to one another’s writing in progress. Along the way, they discover that reflective writing is an evidence-based practice that can be used to prevent burnout, allay moral distress, promote resilience, and sharpen academic writing.

Participants in the workshops:

  • write together and participate in online or in-person discussion forums.
  • establish a regular reflective writing practice.
  • demonstrate that both scientific and creative writing involves reflection and analysis, comparable to that of the nursing process.
  • discuss the evidence showing that deep reading and reflective writing can improve clinical skills and promote empathy in practice.
  • understand that reflective writing can be used in preventing burnout and dealing with the stresses involved in clinical work.
  • discover the importance of giving and receiving constructive, supportive feedback on writing in progress.

Joy has blogged on her use of poetry in nursing education and its uses in health policy.

Contact Joy at