Keep a Nursing Journal

Originally published at

I have been thinking about journaling and notebooks lately, and one thing I've realized is that they can be real tools for professional development. I'm a journal-keeper. I have a row of notebooks that take up an entire shelf because they go back nearly 30 years. Some years I journaled on my computer, and some years I slacked off some, but mostly I have diligently scribbled somewhere or other. I'm not picky about it, either. I don't journal on topics, and I don't often write on and on about my innermost thoughts and feelings (although that's an option).

I have newspaper clippings about deaths, copies of nursing school assignments, snapshots, quick notes about what was happening in the world that day, and my own peculiar little jots with my own scribbled icons. I have a scared icon for my fears, and warm-fuzzy icon for things that made me feel good, an angry one for things that tick me off, a lightbulb for ideas, and so on. The cool thing about this is that I can flip back and see which things I gave the level of importance they deserved (usually not): was it worth it to spend so much time worrying about or being mad about that thing? Usually not.

What strikes me now is how useful it is to have kept these journals throughout my nursing education and career. Because I have a pathway mapped through how I learned and grew as a nurse, I am better able to return to those mindsets to teach and encourage those following in my footsteps. It is easy to forget a time when I did not know how to start an IV or assess psychotic patients appropriately. Returning to those times and reading my own learning processes allows me to recall what I learned, how I learned it, and how it felt to learn it. It gives me the mind of a beginner again, so that I can more effectively educate.

Another thing that I do and recommend for nurses is to use the journal as an instruction manual. I do use Evernote, and it has a definite place with other electronic information-management systems; however, physically writing or drawing on a piece of paper somehow commits that information more deeply into my brain. One of my little personal icons is an "aha!" icon that I draw next to, surprise, things that make me think, "aha!" Those go next to those nursing gems that one just learns from teacher to teacher, preceptor to preceptor, and often from patients. My mind is all over those at the time, and I think I'll never forget such stunning revelations, but I can tell you that re-reading those a-ha moments makes me have them again because I have indeed forgotten.

Finally, I am extremely glad that I have saved scraps and pieces to remind me of big moments in my career. I have notes patients and colleagues have written to my managers to compliment me, I have obituaries from patients I took care of for years or for seconds before they died, and I have little scribbled anecdotes about the small things that make a nursing life the only one I want to have.

Today is the perfect day to start a nursing journal. Don't wait until the first day of class or January 1. Do it now! And if you're about to start nursing school, you're in a perfect position to have your entire nursing career journaled—I think that's exciting!

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