Finding Meaning and Gratitude through Journaling
Ask any ‘seasoned’ nurse what they remember about their patients, and they will not tell you about starting intravenous lines or administering medications, nor will they relate the pathology of a disease. They will tell a story about a patient. When I am asked about being a pediatric nurse, I relate stories of empathy, compassion and kindness. It is less tangible than the science of the profession yet equally, and in many instances, more important. Encouraging students to explore the art of nursing invites them to understand their patients holistically, discover insights and develop a deeper understanding of nursing care.
During conversations with long-time colleagues, we reminisced about our work as nurses and how we made a difference in the lives of children and their parents. A job is something we do, but our work is where we find fulfillment and rewards, even joy. We go to a job, but we attend to our work. If one’s job is a nurse, the work is experiencing and practicing the art of nursing.
These experiences inspired me to incorporate journaling, which has since developed into a key teaching tool, into my students’ clinical day so they too, could appreciate the art of nursing. Thus, Journaling for Nurses, a one-credit hour course for graduate students, was created. The benefits of journaling include helping put things in perspective, focusing on the present and finding meaning, increasing gratitude, thinking positively and the ability to explore perceptions, encouraging self-awareness, reducing stress and improving both physical and mental health.
Students were required to write in their journals at the beginning, middle and end of the rotation using the prompts I provided. Journal entries were only shared with me. This course was first offered during the spring 2021 semester and has subsequently been offered in fall 2021 and spring 2022.
Some of my students were reluctant, but found their voice when they were given the opportunity to write. One student initially stated she preferred taking a test to journaling. She became one of the students who wrote the most.
A different student had been a patient as a child and wrote about that experience in relation to her role as a nursing student. As a child, she did not see how nursing would be rewarding, but now she could see herself working as a pediatric nurse.
As the semester progressed, my students realized there was more to nursing than technical skills. Their writing centered more on their personal interactions with the children and their families. They have learned about themselves, the power of self-reflection and how this informs their feelings about caring for pediatric patients. Many of the journal entries were incredibly insightful. The act of writing, rather than speaking about experiences allowed students to explore thoughts and feelings they may not have wanted to share out loud. Reading our own writing weeks or months later allows proper time to reflect and explore our feelings during personal reflection.
One of the students’ favorite assignments was on gratitude. They were asked to write about two things for which they were grateful. Many shared the assignment reminded them there is much to be thankful for when we stop to appreciate what we have today. Another assignment asked them to share a favorite memory. Students liked the opportunity to write and reflect on events that previously brought them joy. Reliving that experience through writing ignited a new sense of joy for my students.
While much of the writing in nursing school is scholarly, my students appreciated the opportunity to explore a different form of writing, stating this course was, "just what we needed." Below are some of their other comments:
“It was one of ‘the’ BEST classes I have ever taken. More than ever the ability to journal, put pen to paper, and just clear the mind is valuable and desperately needed.”
“I loved the gratitude assignment. Thank you for all your positive feedback.”
“I’m grateful for the gift of this course and your guidance.”
“I would recommend this course to anyone, in any field.”
“I took this course in hopes that I could gain insight into journaling and whether it could be helpful in improving resilience and coping skills for nurses. I can say that I was surprised at how much it did those things for me.”
“The assignments were relaxing and peaceful”
“I felt better after I spent time self-reflecting and writing.”
“This course certainly changed my perspective on journaling both personally and professionally. An act I had once thought was reserved for introverts is now one that I embrace and plan to continue after this class has ended. I couldn’t be happier that I took it.”
Looking to the future, I would love to offer this course to non-nursing students.