The Voice of Nursing

Guest post for RN.FM Radio: http://rnfmradio.com/the-voice-of-nursing/

“And your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

(Walt Whitman)

 When pondering the great writers of the past one will inevitably recall the name Walt Whitman—father of free verse—arguably the most influential poet in American history. It’s generally expected to learn that, in addition to publishing incomparable poems, Whitman also worked as a teacher and a journalist. Would it surprise you to discover that he was also a nurse? Indeed, he served as a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War, initially traveling to Washington D.C. in 1862 to care for his brother (a wounded soldier), ultimately staying on to work in a wartime hospital. It is said that during this time he lived on a modest salary and spent much of his income purchasing supplies for those he nursed.

Whitman isn’t the only gifted writer to wield a stethoscope. A plethora of other names come to mind, including:

  • Anton Chekov (Physician, Master of the Short Story)
  • Sir Author Conan Doyle (Physician, most noted for his fictional stories about Sherlock Holmes)
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (Physician, regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 19th century)
  • John Keats (licensed Apothecary, among the most beloved of all English poets)

It’s pretty incredible when you think about it, and most certainly fitting. Great writing is borne of inspiration, and what is more inspiring than the human body? And who are its gatekeepers?

 This grand tradition continues today through the stories and poems of award winning authors such as Richard Selzer (surgeon), Judy Schaefer and Cortney Davis (both nurses), and many others.  Even the founding editor of WebMD (Tom Lombardo) is an accomplished poet. Who knew?

Equally remarkable is the relative ease with which one’s literary voice may be heard.  There are numerous journals (both print and online) that showcase work stemming from medical humanities. Physicians, nurses, and patients alike are encouraged to submit original stories and poems based on their experiences. One such journal is the Bellevue Literary Review (BLR). According to NewPages.com:

 …no human thing is more universal than illness, in all its permutations, and no literary publication holds more credibility on the subject than the Bellevue Literary Review.

A quick click on the links tag of the BLR website reveals even more publications seeking healthcare related submissions (http://blr.med.nyu.edu/about/links), including The Healing Muse (Upstate Medical Center), Hektoen International, JAMA and the American Journal of Nursing. Anyone may submit and generally there is no reading fee, unless one is seeking publication in a contest issue.

Of course, there are a few basic principles to follow when sharing your creative voice with the world:

  • Just as a virtuoso pianist must make time for practice, so should an aspiring writer. You must fine-tune your instrument. Make time to write on a regular basis. Consider keeping a journal.
  • READ! I cannot stress this enough, so I’ll say it again, and again. READ! Then READ some more!
  • Explore reputable organizations for resources and guidance, such as:
  1. Academy of American Poets
  2. The Poetry Foundation
  3. Poetry Society of America
  4. Poets and Writers
  5. Winning Writers
  • Always use correct grammar and punctuation. Yes, it truly is that important.
  • You must protect patient privacy. Unless you have written permission, never use the name of a patient, colleague, or institution in a creative writing piece.
  • Listen to editors regarding possible suggestions to improve the quality of your work. Emily Bronte once wrote, proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves. Emily Bronte was right.

Are you feeling inspired yet? Perhaps it’s prudent to consider another timeless quote from Walt Whitman:

“I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.”

What else is there to say? Who doesn’t appreciate a good yawp? Now get to it!

 

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