Narrative Writing in Nursing Education

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Jeanne Churchill, DNP
Masters Direct Entry, Columbia University, New York,, NY, USA

In 1860, Florence Nightingale wrote “observation tells us the fact, reflection the meaning of the fact”. Reflection allows students to process their experience, explore their understanding of what they are doing, why they are doing it and the impact it has on themselves and others (Boud, 1999). A nursing narrative is a brief recount of an actual situation or episode in clinical practice that is significant because it results in new learning and/or new understanding (Levitt-Jones & Bourgeois, 2007). Some of our most profound experiences such as witnessing a birth, suffering with a loved one or comforting someone who is dying, can’t be expressed through scientific writing. Narrative writing allows these events to emerge. The clinician is empowered by writing what he or she has done and it helps them to become more effective communicators and compassionate providers. It also provides important opportunities for uncovering nursing practices that often go un-noticed and increases the student’s mastery and appreciation of their own work and ability to better care for patients (Benner, 1984).

The narrative can be a patient experience, self reflection or clinical event or situation. It is written in the first person and includes the following: information that allows the reader to put the situation in context, descriptions of the student’s thoughts and feelings during and after the situation, why the situation is important and the impact it had on them as a person and their practice of nursing. They are instructed to change the patient’s name and any other identifying information in order to protect confidentiality. The students then share their narratives in class with their fellow classmates. This is a powerful learning experience which is therapeutic for the listener as well as the storyteller. When these stories are shared aloud, it also creates a unique pedagogical interaction between the teacher and student.

Narratives can be a creative and powerful teaching tool in nursing education. They encourage students to listen, reflect and create therapeutic interventions for their patients. Writing and sharing these stories are a valuable means for communicating a special kind of knowledge that has been ignored in education. Narrative writing creates the bridge between the science and the art of nursing and allows nursing students to take responsibility for how they want to practice nursing.