1. Ferrell, Betty PhD, RN, CHPN, FAAN, FPCN

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Learning About Listening

The Good Listening Project ( started in Washington, DC, when cofounder Frankie Abralind discovered the opportunity to combine his hobby of writing poetry with his passion for improving health care. He set up a table, chairs, and typewriter in the public space on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and invited those passing by to sit and share their thoughts. Then, he prepared a poem for them reflecting what they shared.


Frankie realized that the gift he was sharing was not just a customized poem, but rather the gift of listening. He discovered that "When thoughtful listeners hold space, people feel heard and understood, and the experience is often cathartic."


In 2018, Frankie extended his single table and chair station to begin The Good Listening Project. The team now delivers healing arts programs in person and virtually around the country and the globe. The Listener Poets work from the foundational understanding that "the quality of their listening determines the quality of another's speaking," thus using active listening to create space for individuals to share. This sentiment is well recognized by palliative care nurses who have experienced moments of being fully present and intently listening to a patient as they then share deep reflections. As palliative care nurses know, there is healing in the listening.


My recent listening experience occurred in my role as an advisor for the Cambia Health Foundation Sojourns Scholars program. The Sojourns program offers leadership and career development for palliative care clinicians ( The Cambia Foundation generously offered the Sojourns Scholars and advisors an opportunity to participate in a multipart engagement with The Good Listening Project, which began with an individual listening session via Zoom. After my session and receiving my poem, I was also invited to participate in a small group "Brave Conversation" to share my poem with colleagues. Finally, as a real treat, the Cambia Foundation brought The Good Listening Project poets to deliver an interactive workshop at the annual Sojourns Scholars Leadership Summit, where many people were able to share their poems. The Good Listening Project's goal in these sessions is "to facilitate meaningful conversations among colleagues, strengthen the social fabric within health care systems, and contribute to a culture where people care about each other's well-being." Feedback from participants reinforced the value of creating an intentional space for reflection, connection, and humanizing each other's stories. As a fellow participant shared, "This gave me a deep sense of appreciation that I'm not alone. I loved being in this space and allowing my mind and emotions to connect to each other."


As I awaited my scheduled session with my assigned Listener Poet, Jenny Hegland, I wrestled with what topic I would like to share. As my session began, I told Jenny that 2 very important things I had been thinking about were from both my personal and professional lives. Personally, I am relishing this time of life of being a grandmother and the great joy of watching my daughter and son in law as parents. Professionally, I shared that I have been thinking of this phase of my career in which I am trying to serve as a mentor and support new nurses and other clinicians as the future of palliative care. Jenny suggested that I talk about both, and perhaps, we would find some common ground.


I shared with Jenny this "circle of life" of seeing new parents and new nurses and that there is something very sacred about honoring new life, and the end of life. Observing good parenting and good nursing is both simple and profound. I shared that I was amazed at watching the parenting of my grandchildren and at watching the next generation of palliative care nurses who are so skilled and caring.


A few days later, I received my poem written by Jenny. It was quite an overwhelming feeling to read the poem, to realize how she had captured so well my deepest thoughts, and that she had listened so intently. As I read the poem, I became the recipient of care, and I was reminded of what it must be like for patients to receive the care that nurses provide every day. Her deep listening brought me to a deeper understanding of my own feelings.


I share this poem-my poem, from "my poet" Jenny-with you and hope that you will be reminded of this incredible gift we have as palliative care nurses and as people who give and receive love and care.


The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.


Circle of Life


By Jenny Hegland




We're not the ones


in the ICU saving lives.


We're the ones


in people's living rooms


as they die.


We're the ones


who guide families


through simple,


yet sacred ritual.


Add lavender scent


to the water


before showing them


how to bathe


the body.


How is a good parent


any different


from a good hospice nurse?


Both bring pure intent


to tend to the heart;


to be of service


to another.








a reverence


for this sacred




How profound


to be alive


in this holy time/


in this golden time


of mentoring,


of eldering,


of grandmothering.


What a gift to exist


in these specks of bliss,


humanity's halo


hovering so low-


keeping us close,


holding us whole.


Betty Ferrell, PhD, RN, CHPN, FAAN, FPCN


JHPN Editor-in-chief