The Art of Nursing Becomes a Celebration of Nurses

Tracey Motter, DNP, MSN, RN; David Hassler, MFA; Mary K. Anthony, PhD, RN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2021;26(2) 

In This Article

Celebrating Nurses With Poetry

Nurse leaders at Kent State University (KSU), located in Kent, OH, aspired to celebrate nurses during the 50th anniversary of the College of Nursing by using poetry to unveil the meaning of the art of nursing. As an art form, poetry provides a unique opportunity for nurses to understand the lived experiences they share with patients (Hunter, 2002). In contrast to science, which defines what something is, poetry gives a deeper and richer understanding about the experience by describing the "ofness" of something and the emotional connection to these experiences and feelings that help give meaning to the event (Hunter, 2002). Creation of the poem "Some Days" gave voice to students, faculty, and alumni who participated in developing a community poem to describe the complex emotions that provide meaning to everyday nursing practice.

Reflecting on Practice

In partnership with the university Wick Poetry Center, KSU College of Nursing faculty created a unique experience for the nursing community to engage in creative dialogue that considered the art and science of nursing to develop a community poem that reflects this "ofness" of nursing practice. The experience of crafting the "Some Days" poem began with eight workshops for College of Nursing faculty, students, and alumni led by the Director of the Wick Poetry Center (DH). During each workshop, a poem was shared about healing and the work of nursing to inspire conversation and reflection. Each poem served as an invitation and guide for participants to engage in the writing process and explore their own feelings, memories, ideas, and emotional responses about their experiences as a professional nurse.

Examples of poems used during the experience included "Gaudeamus Igitur" by poet and physician John Stone (1983), as well as other poems curated by the Wick Poetry Center from community workshops, such as "Ode to My Body" by a group of senior high school students; "Things That Have No Name" by an outpatient therapy group; and "Nurse's Prayer" by an oncology nurse (Wick Poetry Center, 2020). Following their consideration of the model poem, the group was led through a discussion that challenged participants to connect with their inner emotions as they relate to day-to-day nursing practice. A prompt from one of the poems was then used to inspire each participant to reflect and create their own stanza to give meaning to the experience of being a nurse.

Creating a Poem

After the eight workshops were completed, individual lines and images from nearly 300 participating college of nursing faculty, students, and alumni were woven into a collective poem by Director of the Wick Poetry Center, (DH) using an organic and intuitive approach. This process required a deep reading and "listening" to the language and then searching for connections to discover how one line or image could speak to another. This method offered an exciting way to connect each individual story and experience with a larger collective story and voice. The "Some Days" community poem is the culmination of this process and celebrates the work of nurses.

Inviting the Public

Once the poem was designed and installed as a mural on the first floor of the College of Nursing academic building, it took on greater meaning and significance as a public work of art and point of pride for the college to memorialize the complex emotional truth of nursing and inspire future nurses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the power of the poem was reinforced through the narration of the images that were publicly voiced by frontline nurses. Coupled with striking, colorful illustrations, this public installation invites all, particularly those who might not normally read a poem or pick up a poetry book, to pause and reflect on the emotions of what makes being a nurse unique and different, to feel renewed or inspired, and to connect with others through a shared, creative expression. (Figure 1)

There is no one correct way to interpret a poem. Individual readers interpret the poem based on their unique experiences. The art of developing a community poem is what allows the poem to impact those who experience it. Stanzas such as "Your arms will open like doors welcoming those in need" express the art of compassion and making human connections exemplified by nurses. Questions imbedded in the stanza, "Who will wipe the face of the unknown?" and "Who will care for the lonely one in the room," emphasize the art of caring, and the phrase "You'll speak directly with death yet still hear life's wavering mumble" expresses the verbal and non-verbal communication skills nurses use in times of need. (Figure 2)