Composing a Life Work: Why Creativity Matters in Nursing

The following is a guest blog by Jennifer (Jen) Reich PhD, MA, RN, NC-BC Nurse Coach, Poet, Storyteller. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a story called The Healer (2011). The premise of the story is a little boy from a difficult upbringing who encounters a magical being on his way to collect sea glass. He is collecting the glass to make a mosaic for his mother. With the help of his friend, he collects enough to make one for his school as well. He grows up to be an artist, creating mosaics for his community, nursing homes, and hospitals. When he is an old man, he meets his magical friend once more. She tells him he has been a great healer and will be welcomed into her tribe. At first he doesn’t understand. She explains that since he has followed his passion and created his mosaics with love, his art has brought great healing. Love, she tells him, is always healing.

I have written poetry and stories for as long as I can remember. Often I think in poetry, and it has always been a way to help me process information and feelings, to find my voice. I started playing the trombone in elementary school and music became another outlet for me. However, it wasn’t until I began working as a psychiatric tech in nursing school that I discovered how powerful the arts were to help those suffering give voice to their experience. I also realized how important poetry and writing were for me to give voice to my own experience as student nurse and tech.

As a new nurse, I learned from mentors that though a cure is not always possible, there is always potential for healing (Dossey, 2013). Most nurses have experienced the death of a patient or client and know it is part of their work. So how do nurses cope with these sorrows? Some use self-reflection and self-care strategies while others may engage in self-negating behaviors as a way to manage their stress and pain. Sometimes, it’s a little of both. The Nurse Manifest Document Introduction (1a, 2009) states: “We call forth the written and spoken voice of nursing to be claimed and reclaimed. We seek to inspire the fullest expression of the heart of nursing through individual and collective acts. We believe there are profound possibilities in claiming our individual and professional sovereignty.” As caring professionals, nurses need to have creative outlets not only to cope and de-stress, but perhaps most importantly, to find our individual and collective voice.

Very recently, we saw an excellent example of nurses claiming their voices. It began with an instance of nurse blaming in the Dallas nurses who contracted Ebola. In the case of both nurses, before the whole story was out, fault was transferred to them (Goodwin, 2014). However, colleagues in nursing would not allow this to go unnoticed and without consequence. Nurses from organizations such as National Nurses United, stood together collectively to voice their opposition and support their sisters in nursing. Petitions were generated and spread through media outlets. Individual nurses shared their personal and professional experiences through stories shared on blogs and Facebook and Twitter feeds across the Internet. These stories went beyond the nursing community and to the public where the compassion and professionalism of nurses could be seen and heard.

Despite this inspiring display of community and support, we still hear old adages such as “Nurses Eat their Young,” or concerns that nurses are the worst when it comes to taking care of themselves. Remember in The Healer story the boy learned that engaging in his work with great love and passion brought healing to others. When we don’t take time to care for our mind, body and spirit we deny ourselves the balance and harmony we seek for our students or those in our care. Creativity is a path to touching and bringing forth the inner knowing and wisdom to what we best need to reignite our passion. For example, when I do creative self-care workshops, participants will often tell me they haven’t painted, written stories or poems, or danced since before they were in nursing school, or even as far back as childhood. Having this creative release often gives them the courage to voice what has been long held within. There is very little teaching involved on my part, they already know how to be creative. My role is to provide encouragement and help them surrender to the creative process without judgment and/or critique.

There are journals dedicated to evidence-based research on the healing effects of the creative arts in patient/client populations. Music and arts-based therapists do amazing work with arts-based interventions in individuals, groups, and communities. However, there is limited research on why creativity is necessary for the wellbeing of nurses and healthcare professionals. Further, we often don’t often reflect on how the creative arts enhance our nursing practice. One example I share is from a hospice patient I met years ago. He had been a sax player and jazz musician. We spent a little time before each assessment chatting about jazz. I was able to have a volunteer get him a CD player to listen to his music. There was a reciprocal healing process as our connection through music contributed to a sense of greater well-being on both of our parts. In addition, it opened up space for me to understand his concerns and care needs.

When we are engaged in the creative process, we are fully present. This, in turn, teaches us presence. We are so longing for presence in this world. Though more and more coffee shops pop up, most of them have a drive-thru with lines wrapping around the building. We have bigger banks and lenders, and more often than not, we aren’t able to talk to a real person. We cannot explain to an automated system that the reason we missed a bill payment for example, is that we were caring for a sick parent or child. We need creative soul-utions, not just automated systems in our daily lives, and we need these in nursing and healthcare.

I had the privilege of interviewing 13 experienced RN’s on the concept of ‘story’ as part of my dissertation work. When I sent out my recruitment flyer, I received responses immediately and could not interview everyone interested. I realized from this experience that nurses want to be heard! We need to create more spaces to share our stories, to make art together, write poems, listen to music, to dance. Whether our nursing work is on the front lines in direct care, or as teachers, coaches and/or advocates, we must reignite our love for our calling and create individually and collectively a new paradigm for healing. For though there is no cure for all of the problems facing our healthcare system and the world, when we give voice to our life and work though creativity, healing is always possible~


Cowling, W. R., Chinn, P. L., & Hagedorn, S,. (2000). A Nursing Manifesto: A Call to Conscience and Action. Retrieved:

Dossey, B.M. (2013) In B.M. Dossey & L. Keegan (Eds.) C. Barrere & M. Blaszko Helming (Assc Eds.) Holistic nursing: A handbook for practice (6th ed) (pp. 247 – 260). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers

Goodwin, W. (October 24, 2014). Was CDC Too Quick To Blame Dallas Nurses In Care Of Ebola Patient? National Public Radio (NPR) Retrieved:

Reich, J. (2011). The Healer. Retrieved:

Jennifer Reich PhD, MA, RN, NC-BC is a nurse coach, poet, and storyteller. She received her PhD in Nursing from The University of Arizona in 2011 and is adjunct faculty in the College of Nursing.  In addition to nursing, her background also includes degrees in Exercise Science:(Gerontology Specialization) and English/Theatre (minor) and training and practice in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Reiki, Health Appraisal and Meditation. She has incorporated these diverse experiences to design wellness programs and teach self-care strategies to nurses and caregivers throughout the country.

You can find Jen @  and Jen wishes to thank Jackie Levin RN, MS, AHN-BC, CHTP for her review of the blog.


2 thoughts on “Composing a Life Work: Why Creativity Matters in Nursing

  1. Dear Jen,

    What a wonder post! Creativity feeds the soul and there is such power in self reflection and expression of one’s authentic self; not the self we think others want us to be; but our true self warts and all. This applies to nursing practice, education and research for nursing qua nursing i.e.: nursing in the character role of nursing itself (Watson & Bevis,1989).

    I agree that nurses want to tell their stories and those stories are filled with integral healing experiences for self, other and system. Where we nurses may put others nurturing before our own; we must fill out tanks back up again and the arts do just this. My sister is a beautiful Isadora Duncan dancer, she embodies the character of the dance itself: graceful angel, stoic tree, rosebuds falling, lover, warrior, animal…and it touches ones soul to witness the dances. Yes, the gamut of human experience can be expressed through many art forms. Nurses embody and hold witness to a vast range of human experiences; and giving voice to what we know, feel, sense and see is liberating.

    Thanks so much for sharing your creative works and research! Wendy


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