Nurses and Writing the American (health care) Sentence

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I’m gearing up to teach an undergraduate nursing course on health policy. It starts next week and I seem to have 160 students enrolled in it. It also happens to be a writing intensive class. I try not to panic. It helps that I love teaching this class. The course content is fascinating to me, is constantly changing in our country, and is something nurses need to understand and value. It also helps that I love writing. However, our university, as with most all publically funded universities across the US, is experiencing unprecedented financial constraints. For me, that translates into less classroom resources. While I used to have two teaching assistants, this year I am down to one, and am lucky to have her. Next year I will probably have none. This is only one of three courses I am teaching spring quarter, so I have to alter my teaching strategies. Having successfully weaned myself off of PPT slides from hell, the fallback of re-using PPT lectures is not an option.

Plus, if nurses are going to be able to write better, they need more practice doing ‘real writing’ while they are students. Real writing is not academic term-paper writing. That sort of writing has its place, and I will have a term-paper writing option in this class—mainly to appease the academic gods. But I think it’s more important that future nurses have time to figure out what they think about health care issues through writing.

Brevity counts. Concise, clear, cogent. Health care workers need to be able to observe carefully, listen carefully, and distill all of this into words. The American Sentence is a great format for this. So each week in the health policy class, students will write American Sentences for me on different health care topics. I will write some of my own and include them in future posts.

The American Sentence is an Americanized version of haiku, developed by Allen Ginsberg in the 1980’s. It basically is a single line of words, adding up to 17 syllables. He wrote some really raunchy American Sentences, so I won’t be using those as examples in class. Much better and more pertinent examples will come from Wendy Call, a generous spirit and a local writer. She was writer-in-residence this past year at Harborview, our behemoth public hospital/Level 1 trauma center in downtown Seattle. One of her current projects is “Harborview Haiku and the American Sentence,” (see her blogsite entry by that title). She’s providing an American Sentence on each patient meal tray, and encouraging patients, family members, and hospital staff to write some of their own.

Next week I will continue this post topic, segueing into nurses who are writers, or writers who are nurses.

3 thoughts on “Nurses and Writing the American (health care) Sentence

  1. Can’t wait Josephine! Although I love to write, the words “writing intensive” do usually make me sweat, just because I don’t especially love writing under duress about topics I don’t care about. But this sounds really interesting! See you in a few days!


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