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):

Journals:

  • 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.

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.

Becoming a Nurse

Nurse uniform in the 1900's.
Image via Wikipedia

When did I become a nurse? Was it when I carried a burning candle, wore a silly white hat and got pinned in a church in Richmond, Virginia? In my memory I could swear that my pinning ceremony church was St John’s where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech but that can’t be right. I do accurately remember that it was the first and last time I ever wore a nurse’s cap. My childhood Winnie-the-Pooh has worn it ever since and I am sure there is deep symbolism there…

Was it when I passed my NCLEX exam? Or perhaps my first day on the job as a public health nurse, decked out in navy blue? Or was it a year later on my first day on the job as a nurse practitioner at a health clinic for the homeless—when I found myself in charge of the clinic as the only health care provider and willing down my breakfast and my fear? Or am I still becoming a nurse or do I even want to be a nurse?

“Becoming” is a coming into existence. It implies a right of passage, assuming a new identity, a transition from one state to another—such as “becoming an adult” or “becoming a butterfly.” A quick Google search of “becoming a nurse” reveals many website links to things like “10 Steps to Becoming a Nurse” (NursingLink): learn about the nursing profession, find your path to RN title, chose nursing school, get into nursing school, decide on specialty, pass NCLEX, consider possibilities for first job, get hired, prepare for first year as nurse—presto! You have become a nurse! Good luck with that, most nurses burn out in their first year as a nurse…  “Becoming a doctor” has similar elements—MCATs, med school, residency, etc—but also includes things like “excel” and “commit.” There are at least twenty books in print with “becoming a doctor” in the title and only five  with “becoming a nurse” in the title.

Soon there will be an additional book on becoming a nurse and you nurses or ‘becoming nurses’ could be part of that book. “Becoming a Nurse: Real Stories of Nurses, Their Lives and Their Patients” is a book project by Lee Gutkind, editor of the journal Creative Nonfiction. They have a call for submissions (deadline November 30, 2011) for 2,500-5,000 word personal essays, “…stories (by nurses) that recall and recreate the most salient moments of their careers.” (Excerpted from their website call for submissions).  Jenelle Pifer, Assistant Editor of Creative Nonfiction has assured me that they want to include “a variety of perspectives on a number of different subsets in the field”—that includes nurse practitioners and all other flavors of nurses.

Creative Nonfiction, with Lee Gutkind as editor has already published a book Becoming a Doctor (Norton, 2010), with essays by well-known physician-writers such as Danielle Ofri, Sayantani DasGupta, Perri Klass and Robert Coles—as well as many relative newcomers to the physician-writer (published) role—and one who I think is a stretch to the doctor title (at least in how it was conceptualized for the book project)—Lauren Slater (Welcome to my Country and Liar), who is a now non-practicing psychologist. But it is an excellent book and I plan to use some of the essays as readings for my health policy classes this year.