The Art of Nursing
senior nursing students explore their vision of the profession
By Chad Abraham Minnich
I believe play to be a value in my nursing practice. Because children learn through playing, it is essential for hospitalized children to continue to have the opportunity to play; nurses need to be creative to incorporate play into their care. I included “creative,” “fun and games,” “laugh,” and “play” to symbolize this. I also included a picture of a dog, which many children’s hospitals use as “pet therapy” to improve a child’s stay at the hospital. Childhood is a time for growing and learning about one’s environment, so it is crucial for pediatric nurses to involve play in their care.
— Kathryn Barwikowski ’07
By the time students find themselves in Professional Nursing II they are seniors at the end of their studies here at BC. Through multiple theoretical and practical experiences, students have each had plenty of time to think about their personal beliefs, their thoughts, and their values within nursing. Now, with their attention increasingly leaning toward graduation as well as their own potential clinical careers, is the time for them to articulate their personal nursing philosophy.
Facilitating this process is Assistant Professor Angela Amar.
Since arriving at the Connell School in the fall of 2006, Amar has encouraged students to consider not simply the invaluable skills of accurate patient evaluation or the stylistic formality of science writing; Amar has also sought to focus students on their role as individuals in addition to the role, and image, of nursing as a whole. To this end, Amar has striven to infuse the Professional Nursing II curriculum with thought-provoking exercises and projects—a strategy she had employed when teaching professional development nursing classes at Georgetown.
“We talk about nursing as an art and a science, but so much of their work is straightforward, scientific writing,” considers Amar. “I wanted them to get this core idea—to see how they think about various values and practice and change.” So, in an effort to address nursing as art, Amar devised a reflective exercise encouraging alternative means of expression: students would create a literal piece of art representing their own philosophy of nursing. Amar then assigned it to the class of 95 seniors, emphasizing that they could do anything—whatever they wanted to do. “There really were no limits. And the creative part was supposed to give us the gist of the values and beliefs that were in their nursing philosophy.”
Amar concedes that the students probably had some initial doubts about the project because it was so different from what they are used to doing—there was no patient attached, there were no references. “But I think it’s important in terms of their own development that they think about all aspects of nursing,” Amar explains. “Even Florence Nightengale referred to nursing as an art, and we should devote time to the art part. I don’t think she literally meant drawing a picture; but in our communication with patients we’re not just coming from a science place, we’re coming from a people place and a holistic place. We also recognize unique pieces of ourselves and unique means of expression.”
She was right. Weeks later, students toted their pieces of artistic expression to class. One by one they pulled the pieces out of bags and from between the books that had kept them protected and flat, setting them in clusters on the table at the front of the class. Beside the various groupings of artwork rose a stack of papers, each articulating the students’ individual beliefs and values of their role in the nursing profession as expressed in their artwork. The works were so diverse, so unique, that Amar was “amazed to walk in and find the table covered in them all.”
“As you can tell,” she says, later surveying and leafing through the projects, “some people really put some time and effort into thinking about the concepts they were going to use. And they enjoyed having a different kind of thing to do, having a different approach and being able to show a different side of themselves.” Amar motions to a number that she had set aside on a chair. “And you can also see the strong social justice piece, the Ignatian way of thinking—the idea that you’re supposed to go out into the world and come back and reflect on what it means. You go back changed. And once you have this knowledge, you have the responsibility to act and do something.”
If one was to attempt to capture the essence of nursing in a painting, it would have to be done as an Impressionist style because the open composition relates to the constantly reconfiguring role that nurses play. Nurses’ work to accommodate patient needs, situations, and locations therefore having lines that limit the composition of the painting would directly oppose the flexibility of the nursing role. After the style and subject of my painting were chosen, I decided to use this particular flower—a recreation of Georgia O’Keefe’s Cala Lily—to symbolize the relationship between nurses, the patient and family, and the interdisciplinary team. Nurses play a very special role in their intimacy, capacity, and privileged position in relation to patients; they function as mediators, buffers, translators, facilitators, and culturally understanding individuals.
— Jennifer Beaudry ’07
Inspired by a book called Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer, I’m learning to define complacency of our current healthcare system as a violation of human rights. Our healthcare system needs a lot of reform and I consider it maleficence to not respond as nurses in the political sector to the outrageous healthcare disparities. I would also like to emphasize, as this goes along with my art piece that the theme of my piece and philosophy is that denial of healthcare is denial of life and that access to health care is a basic human right, which we violate in this country. In my practice as a nurse, political advocacy for free access to healthcare and work in pubic health nursing as a teacher, conductor of research and provider of service to the community is how I plan on implementing my philosophy.
— Vanessa Lara ’07
When women are admitted to our unit, they often resemble the outside of this box. They feel scared, hopeless and lonely. In very literal ways, some of our patients have been stripped of the womanhood that has always defined them. We care for women after hysterectomies, mastectomies, and during chemotherapy treatment that causes them to lose their hair. These are moments when patients find it difficult to rely on the things that have always sustained them in the past. The words on the box—fear, loss, depression, dread, illness, tears, anger, alone, and despair—represent the thoughts and feelings that predominate during difficult times for patients.
It is the nurse, through the art and science of caring, that opens the patient back up to themselves.
— Kelley Blouin ’07
Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge
While admittedly striking, these art projects were only intended to be companion pieces, complementary to papers describing one’s nursing philosophy. These papers explain how each creative expression evidences a student’s beliefs and values about nursing and the nursing profession. Some excerpts, as rich and colorful as the surrounding projects, follow:
“I attribute my success to this—I never gave or took any excuse” —Florence Nightingale: This quote stresses the important values of accountability and advocacy, which are both essential for nurses. A nurse who does not take responsibility for a mistake or who does not advocate for a patient when someone else is not looking into the patient’s best interest is also a detriment to the medical profession.
— Kristin Jacques ’07
Where the world of science and the world of mysticism intertwine, I believe, is where the world of nursing exists. Out of black and white comes gray, and out of fact and faith comes nursing. This harmony is yours to tend to, and the efficacy of your care will resemble the balance. A nurse must be able to see all things objectively, to assess a situation without emotion. At the other end of the spectrum, a nurse must be willing to take on a patient’s suffering, must have the capacity to feel every emotion, and fight for them when they are too weak to fight for themselves. In preparation for care, a nurse must develop her armor, like a second-skin. The human condition is far too heart-breaking to witness without protection.
— Natalie Hummel ’07
It is amazing and rather disheartening how quickly we forget ourselves, and see the patients as bodies rather than people with their own stories and lives. It is the nurse’s role to hear the patient’s story, to offer our support even if just be listening and not rushing out the door. I do not know exactly what it is about my manner that gives off the impression that I will listen, but I am often rewarded with patients unloading everything onto me because I’ll actually stay and hear what they have to say. They must see that I am genuinely interested, and have often had patients apologize for telling me things they intended to tell no one. But it is crucial that we not lose perspective that even the strongest human being is forced into a stage of utter vulnerability when unclothed, unhealthy, and alone. It is our responsibility, our duty, to place ourselves in their shoes and treat them the same way we would want to be treated as patients. And we will be patients some day, there is no doubt, but hopefully we learn our responsibilities before that day comes, instead of looking back on a career with regret.
— Carolyn Lamonica ’07