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Nursing Story Slams: Creating a Space for Nurses To Tell Their Stories

By: Marion Leary, MPH, MSN, RN

Storytelling is essential to increasing health literacy, empathy, curiosity, and engagement — and who has better stories than nurses? That is why three years ago, we started the Penn Nursing Story Slam event. Storytelling is a big part of the innovation work we are doing at Penn Nursing to amplify nurses as leaders in health and healthcare innovation. Therefore, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to provide nurses a space to share their stories in a way that also creatively engaged the public. I want other nursing programs to use the wealth of storytellers they have in their students, faculty, and practitioners to amplify the stories of nurses and the profession. This article describes our process at Penn Nursing; in sharing this, I hope that more nursing programs and nurses will feel empowered to step up and share their stories!

The Penn Nursing Story Slam brings together nurse storytellers from Penn Nursing and Penn Medicine Nursing to share their true, personal 6-minute stories that explore the breadth, depth, and diversity of nursing. A story slam is a live storytelling competition, usually based on a theme. Most story slam events are open mic, meaning anyone can attend the event and have a chance at an opportunity to share their story. For our Penn Nursing story slams, we want the event to be more curated; therefore, we require a short application process, which includes necessary demographic information and a summary of the nurse’s story (no more than 150 words) based on the theme of the story slam event.

Once all story slam applications are received, a group of reviewers rank the stories based on relevance to the theme and the overall quality and engagement of the story. For the Penn Nursing story slam, anyone with an affiliation to Penn Nursing and Penn Medicine Nursing can apply, including students, faculty, alumni, and clinicians. We therefore also make sure that the storytellers we choose nicely represent all of those groups.

For our inaugural story slam event that was held in 2019 and funded through a grant from the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, the theme was, of course, innovation. Our second story slam event took place in 2020 and was supported through the generosity of our Penn Nursing alumni Sandy Samberg, Nu’94, GNu’95, and her husband, Joe Samberg, focused on the theme of courage. The theme for this year’s story slam event on February 17, 2021, is Stepping Up.

The first two story slam events were held in-person, and our 3rd annual storytelling event will be held virtually due to COVID. We picked ten storytellers to perform for our in-person story slam events, along with a few alternates. Inevitably a couple of storytellers are unable to perform in the days leading up to the event, therefore, we always make sure to have alternates ready to take their place. For our virtual story slam event this year, we have seven storytellers performing, along with one alternate.

A story slam is not like an academic presentation, it is a performance and requires a different way of thinking, a different style of presenting, and a different set of skills. Keeping that in mind, we partnered with First Person Arts, a Philadelphia-based non-profit organization who “believes that everyone has a story to tell and that sharing our stories connects us with each other and the world”… we couldn’t agree more!

Therefore, once our storytellers are selected, we work with First Person Arts to hold a mastery storytelling workshop. During this 4 hour workshop, the nurse storytellers are taught the components and structure of a good story, and how to perform their stories. During the workshop, the nurses work on drafts of their stories, and then they go into breakout rooms to work with First Person Arts storytelling experts to read their stories and get feedback. The workshop is generally held six weeks before the story slam event so that the storytellers have time to take what they learned, put it all together, and practice; practice is key! We work closely with the storytellers over that time to help them refine their stories and to continue to provide more feedback. The goal is to make sure these nurses are as prepared as possible for the event, which means memorizing their stories and practicing them out loud in front of friends, family members, co-workers, and mirrors.

Some story slams award prizes to winners of the slam. In year one of the Penn Nursing story slam, we did award a monetary prize to our top 3 storytellers, supported by BDO, LLP. Since then, we have moved away from the event’s competition component and focused on the storytelling aspect, celebrating all of the nurses as winners for sharing their stories! All storytellers receive 3d printed microphones generously created by our Penn Libraries 3d Printing Lab!

The Penn Nursing Story Slam is a free event, open to the public. The event takes place at community arts centers on Penn’s campus, not in academic lecture halls or event spaces. Again, it is essential to keep the performance aspect for this event. This year, because of covid, we are working with a media production company for the virtual event, so that the event is more like watching a highly produced cable news show and much less like a standard Zoom or BlueJeans meeting.

In addition to the live event, we also video-record the story slams and create individual videos of each storytellers’ performances. Last year, thanks to the support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we also created short documentary-style compilation videos around themes relevant to nursing. All of these videos are now able to be used at Penn Nursing, and more broadly, to highlight the breadth and depth of the nursing profession. After our inaugural story slam event, we even held a story slam screening at Penn Nursing using the videos and hosted a panel discussion with participating storytellers. This was a great way to increase the event’s visibility and expose our students and faculty to the stories shared.

Register now to attend the 3rd annual Penn Nursing Story Slam event on February 17, 2021, 7p ET — as mentioned, it is free, virtual, and open to the public! Nurses have the best stories, and you will want to hear them!

If you want to learn more about how to be a nurse storyteller, check out our newly created animated video discussing why it is important for nurses to use the power of storytelling. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also supported that project.

Why Nurses Should Use the Power of Storytelling from Penn Nursing on Vimeo.

The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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