Strong Minds, Healing Hands, and Compassionate Hearts: Developing a Contemporary and Creative Twist on Tradition

By Lee, Carolyn J.; Idczak, Sue et al. | Nursing Education Perspectives, January-February 2006 | Go to article overview

Strong Minds, Healing Hands, and Compassionate Hearts: Developing a Contemporary and Creative Twist on Tradition


Lee, Carolyn J., Idczak, Sue, Moon, Joan, Brown-Schott, Nancy, Nursing Education Perspectives


STRUGGLING TO ADAPT TO CHANGING SOCIAL FORCES and hold on to core values that confirm his identity, Tevye, the dairyman and father of five daughters in the well-known play Fiddler on the Roof, notes that without tradition, "our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof" Tevye's experiences reflect the challenges faced by nurse educators who must prepare students for an ever-changing health care environment while affirming the core values of the profession. This article tells of the development of a tradition designed to celebrate student efforts in a baccalaureate nursing program and affirm their commitment to the nursing profession.

Ceremony has had a long tradition in nursing. Familiar examples include capping and pinning rituals, recitation of the Nightingale pledge, and graduation ceremonies where students' accomplishments are recognized. Such traditions strengthen ties to an institution and serve as connecting experiences for students and teachers. The adaptation of traditions to contemporary nursing education can be meaningful. O'Brien, noting that the continued use of the Nightingale pledge, albeit modified by today's schools of nursing, reflects a connection between tradition and modern views of nursing and points out that while "the outward appearance of the nursing students has changed, the inward commitment to the profession ... is as strong as ever" (1, p. 26). Kuh and Whitt contend that rituals, rites, and ceremony on the college campus are important to the collegiate experience in that they "enrich the campus ethos and allow interpretations and meanings to be made of special events" (2, p. 67).

As part of a class on the history and traditions of nursing, students viewed a video in which school faculty described their experiences as nursing students. Faculty, now expert clinicians and educators, reflected on their education and spoke of the meaning that their school traditions held for them. Following the video, the students reflected on differences between then and now. They observed that their nursing program lacked the traditions that might enhance their socialization into nursing and would be equally meaningful for them in the future. They were clearly intrigued by the concept of tradition.

In response to this conversation, student representatives on the undergraduate Student Affairs Committee worked with faculty to plan and implement a "Rising Senior Ceremony" intended to celebrate the transition to the senior year of study. Virginia Henderson's words, that an effective nurse needs a strong mind, healing hands, and a compassionate heart, were selected as the theme for the ceremony. For both students and faculty, these words reflected both the art and science of nursing.

Faculty supported students in planning the ceremony. They obtained funding from the school and the alumni association, and one faculty member designed invitations, certificates of recognition for each student, and certificates for the winners of peer nominated awards. The student representatives developed criteria for each element of the theme--strong minds, healing hands, and compassionate hearts--as well as for leadership, and assumed responsibility for holding an election on who should receive these honors. Each honoree would receive an engraved silver frame.

A late afternoon reception was planned to enable students to attend with their families. Faculty and students offered welcoming remarks and presented the awards. After each student was recognized individually and presented with a certificate, the event concluded with a candle-lighting ceremony. Together, students and faculty formed a circle and recited readings selected by students about the important work of nursing. …

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