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Nurse Becomes Author, Shares Stories She Never Wants to Forget
by Shyla Wolf
Inspired by all she witnessed at the bedside, Jeanne Bryner, RN, BN, CEN (rtd), began recording her nursing stories in a journal so she, “would never forget their impact.” Today, those stories, and the stories of other nurses, have become the foundation of Bryner’s published short stories, poetry and plays, which center around the importance of family and the connectedness of people. In her most recent publication, Learning to Heal: Reflections on Nursing School in Poetry and Prose, Bryner compiled and co-edited the stories of fifty nurses who provided a historical perspective on nursing and nursing education. “We are all caregivers; yet we come from different backgrounds. It is important for us to remember how nurses were educated in every decade,” said Bryner. “In the United States alone, we lose 30 percent of our new nursing graduates within the first three years of practice. As a profession, we need to do better at nurturing our students and our graduates. We all have to help each other.”
In conjunction with the book, Bryner also commissioned two quilts depicting the faces of the contributors. “Nursing is such a sacred calling, and faces tell so much about the story of an individual’s life,” said Bryner. “We were uncertain if the publisher would accept our book with the submitted photos. However, we knew we could not let these poems be seen alone, so we put the pictures on the quilts and they will travel with the book.”
Kent State University Press and Kent State University College of Nursing will celebrate the inspiring book’s publication on Thursday, September 13, from 7 – 9 p.m. at Kent State University Library Garden Room with featured readings, discussion and book signings. Click here to register to attend the book release.
Growing up as the fourth of six children in West Virginia, Bryner believes her journey to nursing stemmed from her early exposure to illness and caregiving in the home. “When you witness caregiving at a young age, it becomes part of your makeup.” After earning her Diploma in Nursing from Trumbull Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in 1979, Bryner’s 35-year nursing career spanned pediatrics, ICU, Critical Care, the Emergency Room and Urgent Care. “My patients taught me to love life more because of the situations they were thrown into daily,” said Bryner. “Yet, through family support, those patients and their loved ones rose to the challenge of their situation, and that was amazing to me.”
Bryner’s desire to become a better writer led her to enroll at Kent State University Trumbull campus as a nontraditional student to study writing and poetry. “I kept working as a nurse, fitting my classes around my work and family’s schedules.” She published her first poem in the campus literary magazine, The Icon, in 1982. “It was exciting and validating to see my work in print,” she said. However, Bryner’s life-altering moment came when her English professor, after reviewing her writing about nursing, told Bryner she was a poet. “As nurses we are taught to observe and document early on. If we don’t document medicines, treatments and observations, they never happened,” Bryner said. “It is paramount that nurses be specific and pay attention to the tiniest details. That practice was drilled into me as a nurse and greatly influences my writing.” In 1990, Bryner won the Wick Poetry Scholarship award and had the opportunity to work closely with then Kent State Poet in Residency, Maggie Anderson. Bryner graduated from the Kent State University Honor’s College in 1996 after completing her creative thesis, Tenderly Lift Me: Nurses Honored, Celebrated and Remembered, in which she researched historical nurses, who were not household names, and told their stories in poetry form. Her work has since been adapted for the stage and performed in Ohio, West Virginia, New York, Kentucky, and Edinburgh, Scotland.
In addition to her nursing experiences, Bryner’s writing draws creativity from her childhood memories of evening storytelling and her present daily activities. “I always have a little notebook with me so I can jot things down. I am faithful to my journal and I write every day,” said Bryner, who describes some of these entries as “moments of grace,” or observations that were so lovely she carried them with her throughout the remainder of the day. “Everything for my stories, my poems, my plays, it’s all there in my journal. I’ve already written it down. I just have to figure out how I’m going to shape it.”