Webinar on Digital Stories in Nursing Education

Please join Nurstory and StoryCenter on Wednesday, September 19th, at 11am Pacific Time/2pm Eastern Time for a FREE one-hour webinar, Using Digital Stories in Nursing Education.

Click here to register!

In this current era of media overload, personal stories that are honest and emotionally compelling can make important contributions to nursing education, compassion fatigue, and practice. We’ll specifically focus on:

1) Professionalism and the inherent values of altruism, autonomy, human dignity, integrity, and social justice are fundamental to the discipline of nursing

2) Synthesize concepts, including psycho-social dimensions and cultural diversity

3) Health care advocacy (begins by understanding a perspective other than your own)

Then we’ll go over the history of the Nurstory project as well as ideas for and, examples of, the use of Nurstory process and products in Teaching and Learning:

  • Reflective Practice– Prompt students to reflect on a story, promote dialogue, counter narrative, personal exchange and inquiry
  • Student Centered Teaching & Learning – Increases student visibility & voice through reflective practice & sensitivity to diverse perspectives.
  • Inter-professional Collaboration: Create student digital stories (across education & with other health professional students & share).
  • Ethics – Examine nursing ethics & professional practice.
  • Teach & Learn Dialogue versus Discussion – Practice listening, presence, synthesis of perspectives and tell more stories
  • Influence Policy/Nurse Activism – Select a story that might be used to influence policy makers.
  • Research – Thematic analysis across stories to better understand phenomenon of interest.
  • Self-Care – Expression of self for better understanding and shared perspectives.

Since the late 1990s, StoryCenter has been collaborating with public health practitioners, researchers, and grassroots organizers on the development of unique, community-based and technology-based methods (eg, mobile, social media, web) for getting stories out into the world. Nurstory, a project specific to the narratives that nurses carry, was started in 2007.

Join us for an introduction to current thinking on strategies and platforms for creating and utilizing first-person stories of the experiences of nurses.

Christine Tanner (1947 – )

Inspiration for Activism

  • Led campaigns in Oregon for LGBTQ rights, including legalizing marriage
  • Currently leading campaign for single payer medical coverage for all
  • Editor of the Journal of Nursing Education from 1991-2012
  • Led development in Oregon for seamless progression from Associate Degree to Baccalaureate degree in nursing that has become a model nationally

More information here and here

Nursing Students or Student Nurses: What’s in a Name

Recently, Jane Dickinson drew attention to the power of the language we use in her blogs examining language and health and in her argument to replace words that shame. It reminded me of another instance of language use that I believe to be inherently harmful – referring to nursing students as student nurses. This practice has been so widely used for so long that I can imagine many gasps and reactions, such as, “Well, that’s what they are; what else should we call them?” Why not nursing students? Is there a difference? I would argue there is a great difference.

I cannot think of one other group of students, health or otherwise, that is referred to with a similar moniker. We do not speak of student doctors, student lawyers, student engineers, for example. They are medical students, law students, engineering students. The lack of parallelism is the first indication that we should examine this practice.

When I “trained” to be a Registered Nurse in a hospital in the early 1960s, student nurses made up a large proportion of the hospital’s workforce. Student nurses were identified by their caps, first having none in the first 6 months, then after the capping ceremony, a white cap. Second year students were identified with a light blue ribbon on their caps, third year meant a dark blue ribbon, until finally Registered Nurses wore the coveted black ribbon. The uniforms likewise differentiated students from Registered Nurses, with graduate nurses wearing all white and students being required to wear a blue dress, with highly starched white bib and apron – all exactly 14” from the floor, regardless of the student’s height (so in class pictures the skirts were exactly at the same length) – along with plastic collar and cuffs. Although I describe the practice of one particular hospital, similar practice were common elsewhere. Student nurses were a category of hospital worker and were, as such, as easily identifiable as housekeeping staff, candy stripers, or Registered Nurses.

I say all of this to make the point that not only did the label “student nurse” make her (with very few males at that time) identifiable, but also indicated something about her place in the organization and the expectations that organization had of her. (I will continue to refer to “her” because, although our class was unusual in that we had 2 males in our class, their uniform was white, like male Registered Nurses wore. It did not change throughout the 3-year program, and neither male students nor male Registered Nurses wore a cap or any other ranking symbol.)

The term student nurse comes from a time when nursing students were expected to be not only subservient (if a physican entered the nursing office, a student nurse who was sitting and charting, for example, was expected to rise and give the physician her seat), but also loyal, innocent and pure. The Florence Nightingale pledge, recited at graduation by the graduating classes of the time, included the promise to “pass my life in purity.”  In the first year after my graduation, I was employed as a Registered Nurse  at a secular  hospital (I ‘trained’ in a Catholic hospital) in a different Canadian province.) Yet the Director of Nursing forbade the graduating class that year from taking the pledge because she didn’t believe they had lived their lives in purity. She enjoyed the power to be able to do that!

This combination of an aura of innocence/ purity with the expectation that student nurses provided intimate care to males made “student nurses” highly desirable as dates.  Even during my student nurse years, engineering students from the local university would come to hospital schools of nursing to find dates for their dances.  Unfortunately, this also applied to nurses generally – the saying “if you can’t get a date, get a nurse” was common for years after I graduated in 1964. The frequent representation of nurses as sex objects, well documented by such authors as Kalisch and Kalisch extended to student nurses as well.

Despite the fact that nursing education has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, the term “student nurse,” with all its connotations, persists.  When I was teaching, I challenged students to refer to themselves as nursing students instead.  In class discussions on the topic, despite students’ general agreement that the connotation of “student nurse” was very different from that of nursing student, very few took up that challenge and subsequently submitted assignments in which they referred to themselves as student nurses. Some told me they were required to designate their status as S.N. when signing their charting.

I was interested in whether or not a Google images search for nursing student yielded any different result than search for student nurse images. The screen shots of the first screen that came up with each search are below.  Without a careful analysis, some differences are immediately apparent.  The top one is the screenshot of student nurse images; the second a screenshot of nursing student images.  


While both screenshots include some images that appear unrelated, in the top one they are images of children. There are no images of nurses practicing, and the screenshot includes images of the back of a nurse’s capped head, and the nurse as a romantic figure (Cherry Ames). The somewhat self-deprecating text message reads “ Student Nurse Diagnosis: Stress R/T: knowledge deficit, impaired memory, sleep deprivation, unbalanced nutrition, interrupted family process, lack of social interaction, disturbed energy field.”

Note the general increase in diversity and portrayal of adult nurses providing care in the second picture. The unrelated shots appear to depict Go-Kart racing. The text image, giving the same stress diagnosis, makes its point without self-degradation: “Diagnosis: Just a tad stressed r/t complete academic overload, depleted resources, little or no life.

It seems to me that the collages support the argument that the term student nurse has a different connotation than nursing student and its removal from our lexicon is long overdue. Some time ago I wrote a blog about nurses soaring like eagles. It is a parable about an eagle that finds itself in a chicken yard and starts to act like a chicken, rather than fulfilling its destiny and potential as an eagle.  I believe that by referring to nursing students as student nurses we are unwittingly reinforcing the many messages that the term connotes and are hindering their ability to soar like eagles.


Virtual Caring Science

We have received notice from Kathleen Sitzman of a wonderful online opportunity for everyone who is interested in focusing more clearly on caring in online situations!  Here is the information that Kathleen sent:

Hi Everyone,

I am sending this message to you because you have (at some point) shown an interest in my work related to conveying and sustaining caring in online classrooms. I have completed 6 studies on the subject now, and I wanted to create something that would condense my findings and recommendations into something that people can quickly and easily use. To that end, I worked with the Office of Faculty Excellence at East Carolina University (where I am a professor in the college of nursing) to create and offer two FREE trainings. The flyer with sign-up information is attached. You will need to follow the directions for non-ECU participants.

The two trainings are:

  • Conveying and Sustaining Caring in Online Classrooms
  • Mindful Communication for Caring Online

These are self-paced, do-anytime, independent study trainings. I have placed them in a format that can be completed by anyone who has access to a computer. The first training takes about 90 minutes and the second training takes about 60 minutes. People who complete the trainings get certificates of completion for each one.

The trainings have just opened up and already 20 people (many of them outside of the nursing profession) have completed the trainings and found them to be very helpful. Here at ECU, people can complete them for their annual Distance Education (DE)  professional development requirement. Please let me know what you think and please share the flyer with others who might benefit.

 Sending love,
Kathleen Sitzman, PhD, RN, CNE
East Carolina University College of Nursing

Download the flyer here

Access the modules online here

Nurses Who Soar Like Eagles

This post contributed by Adeline Falk-Rafael

For the past several years I have taught leadership to internationally educated nurses in a 4th-year BScN course. Given professional and disciplinary expectations that nurses demonstrate leadership, regardless of their practice role, the course is designed to provide related knowledge and skill development through classroom and experiential learning.

 After the initial exploration of contemporary leadership theories we begin development of some related skills, the first being communication and collaboration. At the outset of the eaglecourse, students are assigned to a group of 7 or 8 students. Each group is expected to complete a project by the end of the term, but the primary purpose of the group is to provide an opportunity for applying leadership principles and practicing related skills, such as effective communication, (for more information, see my “Peace and Power blog post

 It is the difficulties that students experience in this practice and application that provides an opportunity to reflect on why that is – on how we have been taught to how to act, communicate and be in relationship as nurses in the health care environment and women and men in our society. It is about at this time, that I show them the parable of the chicken and the eagle, which you can watch below!

The basic premise of this parable is that a young eagle has found itself in a chicken yard and learns to believe it is a chicken and thus behaves like a chicken. Although I have seen various versions of this parable, in this particular one, although an eagle tries to “mentor” the young bird into realizing its potential as an eagle, it retreats into the safety of the chicken barn to live out its life as a chicken.

My belief is that it is irresponsible to emphasize the professional imperative for leadership without examining some of the systemic barriers to enacting that leadership; what stands in the way of us fulfilling our potential as eagles, how have we been taught to think of ourselves and behave as chickens – or less than we are? It is only in recognizing the barriers that we can begin to discover ways of overcoming them. Throughout the remainder of the course, it seems that whether we are speaking of communication, collaboration, advocacy, change agency, conflict resolution, or visioning for the future, we encounter “chicken” messages or confining structures that need to be overcome before we can soar like eagles.

What keeps us from working to our full scope of practice, for example? Is it the safety /comfort/ security of working within a defined job description? To what extent have we internalized an identity of an ancillary medical worker?

What keeps nurses so often from being acknowledged as credible knowers? In 2003, I was President of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, during the SARS outbreak in Toronto. At one point, officials deemed the outbreak over, but nurses in one hospital began seeing patients present with the same symptoms and warned of possible new cases. They were silenced with the words, “if I need an expert, I’ll ask for one.” (For more information, see “Lessons Learned from SARS”)

Ceci,1 in a brilliant analysis of the proceedings of an inquest into the deaths of 12 children who underwent cardiac surgery at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, in Manitoba, Canada, similarly described dismissals to nurses’ repeated expressed concerns with the competence of the surgeon, leading the judge presiding for the inquest to observe that the nurses eventually silenced themselves. Ceci concluded: “nurses were presumed to be, acted upon as if they were, the sorts of persons whose concerns need not be taken seriously and gender ideology was a resource that could be strategically drawn upon to make the presumption true” (p. 76).

My guess is that most nurses reading this would be able to recount similar incidents, although more than 10 years have passed since these events. It is a challenge to keep believing and acting like an eagle when you continually get messages that you are a chicken! It is all too easy to become discouraged and give up but in the words of May, “What becomes important for nurses is not that we somehow expect that we may free ourselves of the effects of gendered, gendering discourses, but that we begin to understand how these work in constituting our experiences, . . . that we begin to understand their hold on us and try to make choices about what, if anything, we want to do about this” (cited in Ceci, p.80)

1Ceci, C. (2004). Gender, power, nursing: A case analysis. Nursing Inquiry, 11(2), 72-81.