Wick Poetry Center, Ohio Nurses Foundation Collaborate to Present Sacred Breath: Nurses Respond to Covid-19

During the spring semester retreat on January 13, 2022, Kent State University College of Nursing faculty and staff added their voices to a new project entitled, Sacred Breath: Nurses Respond to Covid-19, presented by the Wick Poetry Center in collaboration with the Ohio Nurses Foundation (ONF). This project was born out of the increasing awareness at the beginning of the pandemic of the incredible distress healthcare workers face daily, especially those on the frontlines. The Wick Poetry Center worked through Susan Stocker, Ph.D., MSN, RN, Dean of the Ashtabula Campus of Kent State University and (then) Chair of the ONF to develop the proposal for the Sacred Breath project. ONF awarded the Wick Poetry Center $10,000, which funded the design and build of the Sacred Breath website, as well as the initial workshops and interviews conducted for the project.

 “It was gut-wrenching to listen to nurses on the nightly news talk about their experiences taking care of COVID patients,” recalled Stocker. “Sacred Breath is an outlet for nurses to express their feelings in a safe, creative and free-flowing way. We also want to look for themes in the feelings expressed by nurses to develop strategies that offer better support.”

Project participants are presented with a list of short prompts on the Sacred Breath website intended to spark thinking and memories, thus allowing them to express their hopes for the future and feelings of gratitude and compassion for others. Submitted reflections are then added to the growing collection of stories known as stanzas. Sacred Breath stanzas will remain independent contributions, though there may be workshops in the future using the Sacred Breath model that could result in the creation of new community-style poems.  

“The website will live online indefinitely, and we hope it will serve as an important historical artifact to commemorate this incredibly consequential time,” said Jessica Jewell, Ph.D., MFA, senior academic program director for the Wick Poetry Center. “Sacred Breath workshops, designed to help nurses make sense of their lived experiences and collect qualitative research to advocate for respite care for nurses, will continue for at least the next year.” 

The Sacred Breath project will be featured at the premier annual writer’s conference Association of Writers & Writing Programs in March 2022 in Philadelphia, PA. 

Initially designed to elevate the voices of Ohio nurses, news of the Sacred Breath project has spread over the last six months through word of mouth, social media and contact with various health provider networks. 

“Many of our contributors, including individuals from California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and even Hawaii, participated because another contributor wrote a few lines and shared it on their personal social media accounts,” explained Jewell. “We see this type of project as having a real grassroots appeal and have been so touched by the many contributors who have participated just from hearing another nurse colleague, friend or family member share their experiences.” 

As the team presents the project at various conferences this spring and summer, they hope to encourage new contributions to the project, added Jewell, who shared they have submissions from Ireland, Canada, Italy, and Spain. The team will continue their international outreach this summer with the Kent State students studying abroad in Florence, Italy.

In addition to individuals currently working as nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing students, anyone in a caregiver role, or who has had to become a caregiver because of COVID is encouraged to submit a reflection. However, only current practicing nurses' stanzas will be included in the research study associated with the Sacred Breath project.

“We are seeing themes that truly expose the rawest of our human emotional conditions, especially in times of crisis,” emphasized Jewell. “Contributors have written about fear, exhaustion and new ways of understanding death, while also writing equally emphatically about the preciousness of life, the way we can be of help to each other, even in the simplest ways. Grief and praise. Lament and joy.”

The Wick Poetry Center has had a decades-long relationship with many healthcare facilities in the region, including Kent State College of Nursing, which has led to previous writing workshops for healthcare providers. 

Sacred Breath is an outgrowth of the Some Days community poem, a collaborative effort with the Wick Poetry Center that honored Kent State University College of Nursing’s 50th anniversary in 2017 by combining the voices of Kent State nursing faculty, alumni and current students,” explained Mary Anthony, Ph.D., RN, professor emerita in the College of Nursing. “By encouraging nurses’ to use their emotional voice to describe their experiences, it created a powerful connection between what nurses do and how they affect people’s lives.” 

Anthony, along with Tracey Motter, DNP, RN, Kent State University College of Nursing Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs, and David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center, were recently invited to talk about Some Days at the University of San Diego Medical Center Journal Club. During this event, Hassler also led the participating nurses through the Sacred Breath project and collected their experiences for the website.   

“The power of Sacred Breath and Some Days has validated that sharing one’s emotional voice is a tool to uncover the meaning of experiences,” stated Anthony. “Nursing is a discipline and profession that brings both satisfaction and burden. Identifying topics that may be associated with the vulnerabilities nurses experience day in and day out using similar methodologies as in Sacred Breath may unlock the potential to celebrate the joys and mitigate the burdens.” 

Listen to one of these impactful pieces: 


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Add your voice to this meaningful and important collaboration by visiting https://sacredbreathproject.com/.

POSTED: Monday, March 14, 2022 03:17 PM
UPDATED: Friday, December 09, 2022 05:19 PM
Mariah Gibbons