Nurse Education as a Holistic Praxis

I would like to share with the readers what it is like to have the privilege of teaching in a holistic, caring curriculum. In my case, our curriculum is offered in hybrid format, so that the majority of the coursework is completed online, while face-face classes are held 2-3 times/ semester. Both aspects of this work are rewarding, in that both educator and learner can get all of the great benefits of being online (clearly demonstrating measurable learning, participating at one’s convenience from anywhere in the world, wearing pajamas to attend class, etc) while also reaping the rewards of getting to know one another more deeply in the face-face setting. The face-face setting is also the optimal time for students to begin to learn more about caring-holistic modalities through both discussion and experience.

Most of these students are new to the RN-BSN curriculum, and this course introduces them to the role of the BSN prepared nurse, including theory, research/ evidence base, leadership, and self-care. I particularly enjoy supporting the students through their online reflections on their self-care efforts, as every week they do a different self-care activity from Cheryl Richardson’s book Extreme self care. By doing various self care exercises and setting self care goals, the students begin to undertake a healing journey that expands and evolves throughout the course of the curriculum. It thrills me to no end to read about how the learners begin to find their way back to their spirituality, recognize the important changes they need to make in their lives related to their lifestyles, begin to meditate, and/or change how they interact with others. Many students share this text with their colleagues and their families.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting face-face with this group. As we don’t give points for participation and many of our students live at a distance, there are sometimes absences, and sometimes we support students who are at a distance in joining the class through use of skype or adobe connect. Regardless most students find the face-face time to be very meaningful and supportive of their learning.

We started our meeting with everybody choosing a card from Louise Hay’s power card deck; this deck is full of powerful, positive affirmations. We then use the card as a tool for check in with the group; students talk about what the card means to them and then they share anything that might be of concern. I have noticed that as the students move through the curriculum and see most of the same co-learners over and over, the sharing usually becomes more personal and open. In this beginning class, students talked mostly about their self-care and the changes they have made. One student disclosed how she and her family had made communication lists and posted them on the refrigerator, an exercise that is recommended by Richardson’s text to do for oneself, so it was interesting how the student brought the work forward to her family. Another student spoke about how over the few short weeks we had been in class, she had found her way back to a more peaceful lifestyle. A different student shared about her work with some challenging patients and how she was working toward being in a place of love and compassion for them.


Next, we meditated using Dr. jean Watson’s online video meditation, a meditation for summer. Though this video was recorded in 2011, it was particularly aligned with our students as Dr. Watson shared the holistic nurse of the year award she had won. The beautiful AHNA heart was featured and was such an inspiration to us all. I found myself in tears by the end of the video, but in this curriculum, it is accepted that both students and faculty will share and emote.


We then moved onto our discussion portion of the class, where we discussed Dr. Janet Quinn’s latest article on nursing as a contemplative practice:

. The students had access to the article before class began, and I also provided them with a hard copy (which they can keep or share with others in the workplace) and we pulled the article up online and projected it so we could talk about the table which shows how a contemplative practice supports a caring and compassionate presence. One of the students had already distributed the article to all of her co-workers, and was able to eloquently discuss compassion and love in the workplace, both for her fellow workers and the patients they cared for. We generated a list of techniques to use for oneself and in the workplace to begin to build the skill of coming back into a heart centered caring practice. We discussed the great importance of daily self-care and managing stress by entering into the relaxation response on a daily basis. We spoke of toxic work environments and taking moments throughout the day to return to a place of peace. I shared with my students a dream I have of employers truly supporting nurses’ self-care efforts (and even including their demonstration of ongoing self-care competency as part of the yearly evaluation process).


Lastly, we began to discuss holistic modalities and how they help facilitate healing. Students shared what they were interested in learning about around these modalities, I provided some of the background on how some of these modalities work (ie, yoga stimulates the vagal response for relaxation, meditation releases GABA for relaxation, pet therapy releases oxytocin, etc) and this discussion will then continue this week in the online environment, and I planted the seed for students to begin to look more deeply into a specific holistic modality in their research class.

Though I was ready to end class a few minutes early, the students seemed to be lingering. Sometimes the caring space we create is a hard one to leave. We hugged and thanked each other for being there, wishing each other well over the summer and acknowledging our mutual bond of caring and nurturing.


What I love about teaching in this curriculum is that I find I am able to truly act as a nurse in caring for my students; I get to experience that same sense of deep transpersonal presence I often have with patients at the bedside and I get to meet them where they are at with their work and their goals, whether in the online or the face-face setting. Of great importance is that in order to do that I have to live up to the call of caring for myself, so I live the curriculum along with the students, rising early to meditate, exercising, doing yoga, praying, and striving to eat well. And in that way I benefit personally from sharing with them.







  1. hi, i am currently in a 2 yr RN program at lane community college in eugene, oregon. i have spent many years prior to nursing school learning and practicing yoga, meditation, reiki, nutrition, and herbalism to care for myself, friends, and family. i am struggling, though passing:), through the western, mainstream paradigm of medicine that i am being taught. i am looking for a RN to BSN program that has a more holistic curriculum. any recommendations or resources would be greatly appreciated! thanks!!

    • Jenny, it can be a challenge, but the heart of all nursing is holism… “all nursing is holistic nursing” is something I heard at the AHNA conference last year. It makes me realize that nurses who are not practicing holistically are doing something other than nursing (maybe they are medical technicians?). A good place to start is to join AHNA (they have a very reasonable student rate) to get yourself connected with this larger group of like-minded nurses. If you can afford to go to the national conference sometime (it is every year in June), you will also make some great connections. I was speaking to the President-elect of AHNA recently, and she said being a member of AHNA is like finding a family and I couldn’t agree more.

      As far as holistic nursing programs, you can view a full list on the AHNCC list.
      I will say that these programs really vary to the degree that they truly support holistic growth of the nurse, so you will still want to explore their curricula closely.

      The program where I teach won an award for excellence in holistic nursing education from AHNA in 2013, but we have not yet had the support from our administration to apply for AHNCC certification. You can find our program at:

      We thread self care throughout our curriculum as it is the basis for the nurse being able to create a caring-healing sustainable practice. We also offer upper level electives in Reiki and Yoga.

      Take good care of yourself; nursing school is challenging!

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