Empowering students to create change

Nursing students often seem to return to school because they are looking for new opportunities within nursing; they may also be experiencing burnout in their current employment situation and looking to create some change for themselves.

Stress and burn out often lead to a return to academic pursuits for nurses

With the integral-holistic RN-BSN curriculum I have developed, I provide students with tools to reflect on their own growth and self-care efforts. As they begin to focus on their own needs for rest, relaxation, changes in diet-exercise, spiritual growth, and relaxation-healing techniques, their lives begin to change.

I see students become able to cope with the stress of their work when they enact simple changes, such as: ensuring they take their lunch breaks, stopping for prayer or yoga breaks, or practicing mindfulness and open heart techniques as they interact with patients and colleagues. Students may begin exercising, losing weight, eating more whole foods, and finding ways to get more sleep.

Some students leave their current position and look for places and settings where they can practice caring-healing nursing. Other students create change in their own workplace in order to return to the heart of nursing. Some have become empowered to enter new leadership positions within their organizations or change their leadership styles to support and empower nurses on different levels. We have students using Reiki in the workplace, and sharing the concept of self-care with their colleagues.

Nurses spreading the word of the need for self-care

I want to mention as well that when nursing education is delivered via an integral-holistic platform, our students also still gain plenty of new knowledge and tools that support the traditional standards of nursing education as they take classes in informatics, pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology. The challenge has been to weave enough self-care and self-reflection concepts throughout the curriculum (there are currently strong self-care and self-reflection elements within our concepts of professional nursing, health assessment, leadership and management, and senior seminar courses) to support students growing awareness. Students receive points for writing journals on their own self-care process and they are provided with the appropriate text to support this process. We also offer integrative-holistic electives such as Reiki and Yoga for healthcare providers, where a great emphasis can be placed on the students’ undertaking their own spiritual-healing journey.

Many students will thank me for bringing them the curriculum, but I have to defer to their willingness to enact these principles that often seem so foreign to them when they start the program. As educators, we need to continue to strive to find meaningful ways in which to support and empower nurses in order to create a growing movement toward caring, healing, and autonomy within our profession.


  1. Carey, I too struggle with these concerns and questions in my own teaching, so I’m curious about the tools or assignments that you have created and how you see these leading to or connected to change and empowerment. Are there a couple of tools or assignments that you could share here and then talk about what happens with students as they engage in the activity? What sort of resistance, if any, have you come across and how have you addressed this?

  2. Carla, great to see you here (I think we met at the UM nurses meeting last year?). I assume you are talking about student resistance and yes I encounter it. One thing that is really helpful is being able to let go of the outcomes; some students will get the concepts and the need for self-care right away, others will progress slowly, and some may use the tools provided only minimally. So it helps me that I believe in holistic modalities and the need for self-care, but I also know they will take what they need right now and that this kind of teaching is “not about me”.

    We use a lot of tools for self-reflection which often takes place online as I teach in the hybrid format. Self-reflection is up to 20-30% of the grade, so students “have to participate”. I use books like Joan Boryensecko’s Fried (used in my leadership and management class) and Cheryl Richardson’s Extreme Self Care (used in my Concepts of Professional Nursing Class) so the students do the reading and the assigned exercises/ reflections. They are much more open to the process when they get points for it and most of them really do find they need self-care.

    I did have a student once in class sort of confront me that she didn’t need to do self-care, she already does all of these things, it’s not helpful for her, etc. I listened to her and I asked her if she was willing to try and complete the reflection and self-care assignments (I was not sure what I would do if she was not willing, perhaps make alternate assignments), willing to do the reading, etc. She said she was… and a few months later she said she had gotten a lot out of the assignments… and by the time she graduated, she made me a very special gift for our class sacred center and she seemed to know.

    Another student had some issues with the leadership style reflections we were doing in leadership and management, which were based quite a bit in previous management experiences. I had to work to ensure that students were maintaining confidentiality and privacy issues, not naming names, etc as Maine is such a small state and everybody seems to know everybody else.

    Also, students need to feel safe in this type of environment where some pretty intense sharing can happen (trauma, abuse, depression, etc), so we have policy that privacy of students is also maintained.

    I will be teaching a pre-conference workshop that will really address some of these issues at the American Holistic Nurses Association conference this June in Snowbird, Utah and I am also available for consulting in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s