Quick Toes in Stinky Shoes

The Old Running Shoes
The Old Running Shoes (Photo credit: Mike Spray)

Way to go to Heather Boyle, RN who just had her wonderful Narrative Matters essay included in the latest edition of the health policy journal Health Affairs. Her essay is entitled “As Sports Fees Rise, A Young Athlete Learns That If You Can’t Pay, You Can’t Play.” Heather is a nurse at the Center for Change, an inpatient treatment center for adolescents with eating disorders in Orem, Utah. I had the pleasure of teaching Heather for two of her nursing courses at the University of Washington, where she graduated in 2012.

As she mentions in her essay, Heather grew up in rural Washington State, near the Olympic rainforest. She took up running in elementary school by helping her family members deliver newspapers. A star high-school runner, Heather encountered financial barriers to participation in her school’s track team. Heather advocates for elimination of the “pay for play” rules in order to increase access to school sports. For my health policy course, Heather wrote a health policy essay/personal narrative on school sports, using the format of Narrative Matters. She now has her essay published, plus there is a link to her reading her essay. “Quick Toes in Stinky Shoes” was her original title for the essay, and in the published piece the editors retained it as a subheading. Heather I am so proud of you!

Where to Get Your Words Out

American Journal of Nursing
American Journal of Nursing (Photo credit: random letters)

Here are some specific resources for where to get published. This is primarily intended for writers of personal essays, short stories and poems dealing with health and health care-related issues. I’ve geared the list towards nurses, but all of the journals included here accept writing from any type of health care provider, as well as from patients and family members.

Remember to do your homework before submitting to any of these journals or blogs: follow their current submission guidelines and read their published content to make sure it is a good fit for your work.

Good general all-around resources for writing and publishing:

  • Duotrope. They have recently added a nonfiction category to their excellent searchable database of literary journals and magazines, as well as information on small presses open to book manuscript submissions.

Good resource for almost all things related to medical humanities (intersection of medicine/healthcare and creative work):


  • American Journal of Nursing. I’ve linked to their editorial manager page that has information for potential authors. Check out their Art of Nursing, Viewpoint, and Reflections sections as these are the ones accepting more creative types of writing. (They also pay a $150 honorarium for each published piece!).
  • Bellevue Literary Review/NYC Langone Medical Center. Excellent print publication. Highly selective and they can take up to six months to review a submission, so I don’t recommend them for first-time authors. But I highly recommend the journal for reading good narrative medicine type writing. They also have really cool archived historical photos from Bellevue Hospital, the oldest continuously running hospital in the U.S. (although Hurricane Sandy seriously affected their buildings and operation).
  • Creative Nonfiction. This print journal is highly selective, only includes creative/narrative nonfiction, and is not primarily geared towards health-related writing. But the editor, Lee Gutkind, has his heart in medical narratives.
  • Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine. “An online magazine that uses stories and poems from patients and health care professionals to talk honestly about giving and receiving medical care.” You can sign up to get a weekly short essay (800 word limit) or poem (they currently are closed to poetry submissions as they have too many to review).
  • The Examined Life Journal/University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. A relatively new (now biannual) print journal from the medical school linked with the most prestigious writing school in the country. This is where Abraham Verghese honed his writing skills. They have a new annual writing contest/deadline is January 10, 2013.

Blogs can be a good place to get started as a writer. Consider submitting to an existing group blog to have your work included as a guest blogger. An excellent one is HealthCetera at the Center for Health Media and Policy at Hunter College. Joy Jacobson, MFA (health care journalist and poet) and James Stubenrauch, MFA (writer and editor) are both Senior Fellows at the Center for Health Media and Policy, Hunter College School of Nursing. They both have worked as editors for the American Journal of Nursing. I ‘spoke’ with them via e-mail this past week and they wanted me to encourage my students (and other nurses) to consider submitting a guest blog post.

So no excuses! Get your words out and get them published.

Narrative Nursing

Cover of "Narrative Matters: The Power of...
Cover via Amazon

The health policy journal Health Affairs has a feature entitled “Narrative Matters,” which are personal essays in the voice of patients, their families and caregivers with a health policy aspect. Health Affairs has been running these essays for 10 years and is a popular feature, crossing over to news features on NPR and in the New York Times. In 2006, the editors of Narrative Matters published a book collection of 46 of their best essays. The essays included in the book are all very powerful. They range from a former governor writing about the culture clashes between medicine and public policy, to a physician’s struggle to care for his father with dementia. What struck me as I read these essays, as well as the other more recent ones available online, was the fact that very few were by nurses. In the book version, there are two essays written by nurses. They are both by male nurses and deal with their moral distress, burnout, and decision to leave nursing. This is a common problem in nursing, and rates of burnout and exit from nursing are much higher for male than for female nurses. It’s good to have their perspectives on the issues voiced, but was disappointing that those were the only essays by nurses included. Of the 10 essays published in 2010, seven were by physicians, two were by patients, and one was by a nurse practitioner. The nurse practitioner wrote about her decision not to have mammograms and the negative reactions she gets when she voices her decision and rationale. We need more nurses writing these sorts of essays, and having them published in high profile journals such as Health Affairs. Publishing in nursing-specific journals is all well and good, but I don’t think many nurses ever read them, and the general public most certainly does not.

Next quarter I am teaching a graduate level course in health politics and policy and in lieu of a course paper I am having students write (and submit) policy-level nursing narratives for Narrative Matters. So stay tuned to Narrative Matters for (hopefully) some stronger nursing voices.