Writing About the Writer: Theresa Brown, Ph.D., RN

November 10th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

It is said the best way to become a better writer is to write. It is also said that to become a better writer, be a reader. I would add, to become a better writer—listen. This week I had to opportunity to listen to and briefly speak with Theresa Brown, Ph.D., RN, blogger, essayist, author and most importantly, nurse.

Brown is a second career RN who came from the academic world. She was an English professor for a short time at Tufts University in Boston. "When I was pregnant I fell in love with the midwives who helped during the birth of my twins," Brown said "I had a slow realization that I didn't want to be a professor. I hated grading people even though I liked teaching. "

"I thought they [the midwives] were the coolest things in the world." While talking about this with a friend, who was also an English professor, the friend suggested she should then go to nursing school. "I had an impulse to want to give back."

Brown was accepted to an accelerated BSN program and entered into oncology nursing upon graduation. Her impulse to write was still a strong part of who she was and she began chronicling the experiences of her first year on the floor.

Now, she splits her time between being a nurse at a Pennsylvania hospital, writing, and guest speaking. This day she was speaking to approximately 500 nurses at the initiation of a nursing grand rounds program at a Texas hospital.

"My first piece in The New York Times was based on the poem Death Be Not Proud by John Donne." It was about Brown's first experience of the death of a patient. She had only been a nurse for about six months when it happened. "The essay captured what the experience was like for me," Brown said.

She talked about having the article accepted for publication, having the photographer come out and take her picture and then the waiting for it to be published. She waited six months before the piece was published. "There was a reaction I was no way prepared for," says Brown. "Within three days I had a book contract. To have someone come to me and say please write a book for us…I felt like Cinderella for a month."

The publishers who approached Brown told her they were hearing a voice they had not heard before, "the hospital nurse." So now, I am often asked, by colleagues, by readers, 'Are you a nurse or are you a writer?' The answer is yes, I am a real nurse and yes, I am a real writer."

Brown explains how she uses a patient's story to catalog the range of emotions we go through as nurses. "I am always thinking about confidentiality and HIPAA and how much you can leave out and still tell a good story." The response from readers, she says, has been great. They have liked hearing the story of a floor nurse, it is not the stuff found in the mainstream media. "A nurse who is not a writer would never have this story told at all," says Brown. "I am by training and inclination a nurse. I am by training and inclination a writer.

"The story of nurses is really a narrative of patients' success," says Brown. "It is nurses who minute-to-minute gets those patients through. I want the public to hear the voices of other nurses too.

"I'm asking everyone to tell the truth about what you do at work. We all have these stories and we should tell them. We are the inner mechanism of healthcare and its human face."

I am a writer and I am a nurse. I am proud of both and I know I can always do both better. I listened to Brown speak, I am reading her book and I hope to represent the nursing profession in as respectful a manner as she does. I hope we all do.

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