A Call to Nursing: Nurses' Stories about Challenge and Commitment

Sergi, P. & Gorman, G., eds.

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Apr-20-2009
  • Last revised: Apr-27-2009


Kaplan Publishing has recently released several anthologies aimed at a nursing audience or perhaps at a reading audience that wants to know more about what nurses think and feel about their professions.  This anthology, a collection of poetry and essays, looks at the various reasons these authors went into nursing in the first place, how nursing changed them, and why they either stayed the course or went on to other pursuits.  As the editors say in the Introduction, "nursing abounds with experiences that can either reinforce our vocational commitment or cause us to reconsider it" (p. xi).

In the first section, "The Calling," poems and essays examine "the idealistic reflections of those aglow with nursing's promise of intimacy and connection" (xii).  Here we meet student nurses with a true calling who are "living, breathing and sleeping nursing" (p.5), and students who are sure they are going "to murder someone" (p. 6).  Like most professionals, nurses often have mentors, and those mentors--"brisk, frank, fast, sometimes sharp" (p. 30)---are honored in this section as well.  Readers, upon completing this section, will be moved and cheered by the poems and essays that reflect the romance of nursing and the intense drive that many nurses have to give of themselves to others. 

The editors, however, are no Polyannas.  They know that a student's illusions and dreams will run right smack into reality.  While the rewards will certainly be many, the discouragements will be present as well.  The fact that both experiences---the highs and the lows---can occur within a single day is reflected in the collection's second section, "The Reckoning."  Here the realities of death, exhaustion, burnout and doubt are faced full on.  Some of the works in this section are by nurses who have chosen to leave the profession:  "Brazil, the new hospital.  We have no water.  Doctors protest poor facilities by refusing to see patients and sitting in their cars outside in the parking lot" (p. 81), writes Veneta Masson as she traces her career from 1958 to 1998 when she decides to leave nursing and "use my hands to write and to bless" (p. 84).  While some have chosen to leave, other nurses have found ways to survive: "Nursing allowed me to help my mother die; my music has helped me live" (p. 88) writes Colleen O'Brien, and Fr. Robert J. Kus writes about his dual roles, priest and nurse, how they balance and enhance one another (pp. 102-110).  The works in this section remind readers of the sacrifices caregivers must make every day.  As Jo Ann Papich writes, "Please appreciate your nurse while you still have one" (p. 99).

Section Three, "Reincarnation," tells of the "informed commitment that arises after sustained trial" (p. 165).  Here nurse-writers talk about survival and the oddly comfortable balance between stress and transcendence that comes, at last, after many years in nursing.  In "Why I Like Dead People," Sallie Tisdale takes a wry look at death, nursing homes and their "cockeyed logic" (p. 175).  Anne Webster, in "Slow Night in the E.R." talks about doing what you must do to help others even when you "can't do it," when you "stand outside the curtain, shaking" until the patient asks, "Are you there?" (p. 186-7).  Kathryn Gahl, in "The Reason Nurses Write Mostly Poetry" says it's because nurses "convert heart sounds // and hard words into art before the next patient / arrives, hemorrhaging, counting on that nurse / to flow like a pen, bleed for both of them" (p. 195).  And in the book's final essay, "I'm Staying," Shirley Stephenson offers a series of lovely statements about why she, and others, might continue in the frustrating, tiring, challenging and miraculous profession of nursing.  "Because I have been in the bed, and beside the bed. Because I have waited. Because I believe any one of us could face the circumstances of those for whom we provide care, and we're much more similar than different. Because this is where the rhythm is loudest---yes this yes this yes this yes this" (p. 246).


Of the recent nursing anthologies published by Kaplan, this is my favorite.  The essays and poems are consistently interesting, well crafted and devoid of the sweet sentimentality that is always a danger when nurses or doctors express their deepest feelings about their work and their patients.  The editors have chosen their authors wisely, presenting both new and unknown nurse-writers as well as well-published and award winning writers such as Jeanne Bryner, Judy Schaefer, Sallie Tisdale, Anne Caston, Theodore Deppe, Veneta Masson, Kelly Sievers, Kathleen Walsh Spencer, Andrea Vlahakis, and Anne Webster.

This anthology will be of interest to caregivers and laypersons, and it would be an excellent text for student nurses or for use in literature and medicine courses.



Kaplan Publishing

Place Published

New York




Paula Sergi & Geraldine Gorman

Page Count