Becoming a Nurse: The Book

Creative Nonfiction’s anthology is currently in press and due to be released March 12, 2013. The book’s full title is I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse (Lee Gutkind, editor/In Fact Books).

Here is the official book blurb:

“This collection of true narratives reflects the dynamism and diversity of nurses, who provide the first vital line of patient care. Here, nurses remember their first ‘sticks,’ first births, and first deaths, and reflect on what gets them though long, demanding shifts, and keeps them in the profession. The stories reveal many voices from nurses at different stages of their careers: One nurse-in-training longs to be trusted with more ‘important’ procedures, while another questions her ability to care for nursing home residents. An efficient young emergency room nurse finds his life and career irrevocably changed by a car accident. A nurse practitioner wonders whether she has violated professional boundaries in her care for a homeless man with AIDS, and a home care case manager is the sole attendee at a funeral for one of her patients. What connects these stories is the passion and strength of the writers, who struggle against burnout and bureaucracy to serve their patients with skill, empathy, and strength.”

Lee Gutkind, dubbed by Vanity Fair as the godfather of creative nonfiction, is currently Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes—where, among other things, he is “(…) helping scientists, engineers, nurses, lawyers, philosophers, etc share what they know with a general audience.” (Creative Nonfiction blog post 7-7-08).

In Fact Books is the new book imprint of the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. They have published two books this year: An Immense New Power to Heal: The Promise of Personalized Medicine(Lee Gutkind and Pagan Kennedy), and At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die(Lee Gutkind, editor). Gutkind has a special interest in the narrative of medicine, beginning with his 1990 book Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation (U. Pittsburg Press). In the introduction to the anthology he edited, Becoming a Doctor: From Student to Specialist, Doctor-writers Share Their Experiences (Norton/2010), Gutkind marvels at how there are so many writers who are doctors and doctors who are writers.

I look forward to reading Gutkind’s introduction to the “Becoming a Nurse” anthology, specifically how he addresses the paucity of nurses who are writers/writers who are nurses. Gutkind was reportedly surprised that they did not receive a flood of submissions for their “Becoming a Nurse” anthology, and wondered why there weren’t more nurses who write about their work.

I can think of many reasons why there are not more nurses who write (see my blog post “Nurses and Writing: Writers and Nurses” 3-31-11). Besides the fact that nursing is a servile, mainly female, “functional doer” profession that doesn’t require a basic four-year liberal arts education, nurses who want to write about their work are bullied out of it by their bosses. Quite frequently I hear from nurses who are writers (or who want to become published writers) that they have been threatened with termination by their employers if they continue to write about their nursing work—even when they are appropriately changing details in order to protect patient privacy. Because of the differences in professional power dynamics and the rigid hierarchy within the health care system, doctors who are writers do not have this barrier to writing—or at least not to the same extent.

But what that means is that Gutkind’s anthology on “becoming a nurse” is all the more important a contribution to the growing field of narrative medicine/nursing/health care. The book serves as a platform for a total of 21 nurses from around the world to tell their stories about what it means to become a nurse.

Transparency here: my essay “Next of Kin” is included in the anthology. My essay is the “a nurse practitioner wonders whether she has violated professional boundaries in her care for a homeless man with AIDS” in the book blurb. Thanks to a grant from 4Culture, I was able to complete the site visit/research for my essay (and book from which this essay is taken) last fall, in time to submit it to Creative Nonfiction.

At 320 pages and retailing at $15.95, the book I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse ( is available for pre-order from your favorite bookstore—like mine here in Seattle: Elliott Bay Book Company. And if you live in (or want to travel to) the Seattle area, stay tuned for information on several group readings/presentations by some of the authors from the anthology—at Elliott Bay Book Company and at the University of Washington Health Sciences Library. Both events are still in the planning stage and will most likely be in mid-March.

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