1. Smeltzer, Carolyn Hope EdD, RN, FAAN, FACHE

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AT a time in health care when nurses and other caregivers are in short supply, are consistently reporting dissatisfaction, and have limits on their ability to provide independent, professional practice, and when patient satisfaction is arguably in decline, why doesn't leadership listen to the "stories of clinical staff?" Many times staff are looked on and listened to as a group, not as individuals. It is the authors' premise that although everyone knows clinicians, perhaps they do not know the true stories of nurses nor have they focused on listening to the nurses' stories. It also is our premise that story telling is a lost art in the health care leadership field and a lost art in a professional field such as nursing, which is so rich with stories. If nurses' stories were valued and listened to, nurses would feel more energized, motivated, and respected, and their patients would reap the benefits in service and in quality.


Storytelling is a powerful tool that can be used to influence others. A leader's role is to influence. Influencing through storytelling is meaningful particularly with staff who have rich stories to tell. Nursing staff, physicians, and patients many times have enough facts and too much information. What staff really want is trust so they can make the right decisions for patient care and the right decisions for the organization. Leaders in an organization, staff, physicians, and patients can make decisions with a story, or a story coupled with facts, rather than facts alone. Stories also influence and shape an institutional culture making it more in tune with its clinicians; thus the clinicians can focus more on the patients.


Storytelling is a skill. There are 6 story types that can be used as leadership tools. These are: Who am I?, Why am I Here?, Value, Vision, So That is What You Think, and Teaching. 1 Storytelling empowers trust, builds relationship, shapes culture, and assists both leaders and staff in reaching strategic goals of an institution.


Nurses and other health care team members often have been stereotyped. The stereotype is positive but simplistic; nurses are seen, like other health care members, as good, caring, hardworking, and compassionate people. Nurses are much more as attested by the 107 nurses' stories collected by the authors. By understanding the nurses' stories and lives, leaders will not only gain skills in storytelling but will better understand the motivations and values of their work force. Leaders need to learn to listen to the "stories of nurses" in a way that will help shape the culture of caring. We believe that once the stories of nurses are listened to, more stories will unfold, improving nursing visibility and demonstrating how nurses enact their unique culture of caring.


Both authors used their nursing network to call for stories of nurses. The nurses' stories are from around the world and highlight the diversity within the nursing profession. The criteria used to select nurses whose stories would be told were simple and 2-fold. First, the nurses needed to have spent the majority of their career caring for patients or the community in traditional or nontraditional roles, and second, if the authors needed nursing care, they would want this nurse to be their caregiver. The response was overwhelming. Families wrote about nurse family members who were special and in some cases motivated others to become nurses; friends wrote about the impact of listening to their nurse friend's stories of caring; nurses wrote about colleagues they silently respected and learned from; and nurses wrote about defining themselves as a nurse and about the special relationships they created with patients. The stories will make you cry, think, laugh, and reflect on the true mission of nurses and health care. The stories will make you realize that nurses many times are treated with reverence even though leaders in an organization may be unaware of their "stories."


Nurses' stories are about people who are at our patient's side during the first moments of life, its progression, and human suffering. The stories demonstrate that nurses remain grounded in the sameness of their practice, helping others with activities of daily living despite their circumstances, age, and status of health/illness, sometimes taming the horrific with a cloak of ordinary caring activities. The stories illustrate that nurses have certain common characteristics; some include caring, compassion combined with cognitive knowledge and intuition for decision making, humor, and multiple skills sets. They are trustworthy, tireless, empathic, and energetic. The authors, from studying the stories, know that nurses are transformed by the sacredness of their calling. Their patients understand this. Using a storytelling strategy enables leaders with their busy schedules and with their own challenges to develop and encourage this same appreciation.


By reading or listening to the stories of nurses and other providers, leaders will know how to elicit, tell, and value stories in shaping a vision and culture. Leaders will be touched in a way that they will want to promote their own "nurses' stories." Reading nurses stories will create a sensitivity to listening and gathering stories of nurses. Nurses who read and listen to colleagues' stories will reflect on their own experiences and lessons learned from patients. Patients will begin to realize the relationship they build with the special nurses who care for them. Once the stories of nurses are heard, leaders will have more evidence to help organizations understand the priority of focusing on the workforce and improving the work environment as means of achieving excellence in patient care.




1. Simmons A. The Story Factor, Secrets of Influence from the Art of Storytelling. Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Publishing; 2001. [Context Link]