Nurses tend to practice behind pulled curtains, closed doors, and on their own, with one patient at a time. Shifts change, and the ritual of “report”– the passing on of objective and subjective information about patients, stands in for storytelling. Rarely is there an opportunity other than the sharing of tales of nightmarish patient encounters over drinks, for nurses to reflect on their practice. Nursing education does not prepare its practitioners to write or reflect, often squeezing out creativity and subjectivity. Without opportunities for reflection, nurses struggle to process the suffering and victories they experience with their patients.
In 2008, StoryCenter and nursing researcher Sue Hagedorn began Nurstory, a collaborative project that examines how personal stories of nurses and other providers can contribute to nursing education. We led a series of three digital storytelling workshops at the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center and School of Nursing, bringing together nurses from around the country to share their own stories about nurse–patient relationships. Nurse participants were hungry to share stories about challenges and formative decisions they make, in nursing. They cried, supported each other, and shared truths they hadn’t recognized before attending the workshops. The resulting stories are being used to engage nursing doctoral candidates and practicing providers in dialogue about health care ethics, the value of reflective practices for providers, the need to address secondary trauma, among nurses, and the true meaning of care, in the context of a changing health environment.
In subsequent phases of the project, we co-produced a short-form documentary about the Nurstory digital storytelling process and supported the Center for Social Justice in Nursing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in conducting a workshop to gather stories of struggles for justice within the nursing field (view the documentary and Nurstory Stories Online). We are also involved as a result of the project in an ongoing partnership with the Center for Medical Transport Research (TCMTR), which has sponsored a total of seven digital storytelling workshops with air medical flight crash survivors, whose stories are being shared to help create a culture of safety within the industry (view stories).