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University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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UW-Eau Claire Professor's New Book Celebrates the Art of Nursing 

MAILED: Sept. 19, 2002

         EAU CLAIRE  Dr. M. Cecilia Wendler, associate professor in the department of nursing systems at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, celebrates the spirit of nursing in her new book, “The HeART of Nursing: Expressions of Creative Art in Nursing.”
     Recently published by Center Nursing Publishing of Sigma Theta Tau International, the nursing honor society, the book is a compilation of original stories, poems, essays, paintings, photographs and needlework by nurses, about nursing.
     Wendler, who routinely asks her rather startled master’s level nursing students to produce works of original art, believes that art and the humanities can help deepen and enrich nursing practice in a variety of ways. Art, she says, can help nurses momentarily free themselves from their scientific, clinical orientation and better define and express what brought them to, and keeps them in, a challenging profession. Writing a poem or essay, for instance, may help bring some peace and closure to a nurse who has lost a young patient and been privy to the family’s grief.
     But according to Wendler, art also can serve as inspiration for the practice of nursing itself, and in turn, transform that practice into art. One of her own contributions to the book, an essay titled “A Lesson from the ‘Phantom’,” tells how her memory of a scene from the musical play, “Phantom of the Opera,” inspired and empowered her to take time out from clinical duties to show compassion for the suffering husband of a dying patient.
     “Nursing’s humanistic roots are very visible in these works and can facilitate healing at a whole different level,” said Wendler. “Nursing is more than just body-caring. It is spirit-caring, caring for the mind, caring for the whole human experiencing sometimes exquisite suffering, a suffering routinely seen and co-experienced by nurses, always present, 24 hours each day. Thus, the book is a testament to the enduring nursing spirit.”
     According to Wendler, Sigma Theta Tau has just begun to return to nursing’s artistic roots, now recognizing publicly the connection between art, the humanities and nursing practice. A call for artistic contributions for their annual conference resulted in 65 contributions, including one from Wendler, who went on to contact the other contributors and propose a collaboration.
     Many agreed, and a second call for work brought even more contributions, after which Wendler spent two summers immersing herself in the works and considering how to organize them. Gradually, she said, seven themes seemed to emerge, which became the book’s chapter headings: 1) The Nature of Nursing; 2) Bookends: Birth and Death; 3) The Extraordinary Ordinary; 4) Reflections: Nurses’ Interiority Unfolding; 5) The Other is Me; 6) Preparing Others to Nurse: Teaching; and 7) Hope: Looking Forward.
     The book’s forward is by Dr. Jean Watson, a noted nursing theorist from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and a scholarly introductory essay by Dr. Kathryn Gramling, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, explores such questions as “what is art?” and “when is nursing art?”
     In addition to editing the volume, Wendler contributed an introduction, two essays of her own, and an afterword titled “The Healing Power of Art.”
     A number of other UW-Eau Claire faculty, graduate students and alumni also contributed to the book, including Dr. Joan Stehle Werner, professor of nursing, adult health; Rita Sperstad, assistant professor of nursing, adult health; nursing graduate students Sandra Lynch, Blaine, Minn., and Linda Jerzak, Rhinelander; and nursing alumni Leah Luedke and Heather Nelson. Gene Leisz, senior artist in the Center for Instructional Technology Improvement and Innovation, illustrated one of Wendler’s essays.
     The response to the book, Wendler said, has been one of overwhelming excitement, sparking an increase in dialogue about art in nursing and prompting many nurses to buy multiple copies for friends and other professionals interested in humanistic nursing. A second edition is already in the planning stages.
     For information about purchasing “The HeART of Nursing,” call the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, toll free at 888-634-7575.
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Judy Berthiaume
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Updated: September 19, 2002