Storytelling as a Vital Source of Knowledge and Connection in Nursing

I’m not saying that nurses should abandon the quantitative and evidence-based practices that we know have saved many lives. But we should also seek to balance and contextualize this approach through humbly listening to the stories of those we care for. Some of my greatest learning has come from individual client stories and from the rich meaning of their experiences. Stories from clients about their lives can have both a tangible and an intangible effect on the care we provide. A story may create an atmosphere of openness, closeness, and warmth that is both soothing and healing during the most trying times.

Lascaux cave painting/via Wikipedia

Lascaux cave painting/via Wikipedia

That’s an excerpt from “He Told Me a Dream of Animals Leaving His Heart,” this month’s Viewpoint essay by Mary Smith, a nurse practitioner and PhD student who writes of caring for a traditional healer as a community health nurse working in a First Nation community in an isolated northern area in Canada.

Smith discusses the many roles storytelling can play: it’s a way to inspire nursing students and explore ethical issues, a source of knowledge about patients and communities, a way to bridge cultural differences, and much more. The piece is direct, short, and written with clarity and insight. Give it a read and see if it gets you thinking or speaks to your own experience.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor


Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Sreelatha December 16, 2014 at 5:28 am

    Experience is the best teacher, hence listening to the experiences in the form of story telling is an excellent method of teaching in nursing

  2. mamaantis December 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Just in the past week I have had the opportunity to allow my patients to narrate stories abut their past and that has made a world of difference in their sleeping patterns as the night progresses (I work 3-11). When they are permitted to tell something about themselves, the ones I have cared for have become more relaxed and less anxious.

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