Becoming a Holistic Nurse Educator
Guest Editorial by Nancy Laplante PhD, RN

I have always considered myself to be compassionate and caring. Teaching in undergraduate and graduate programs, I am challenged to stay connected to my students while also modeling professionalism and maintaining high academic standards. This is no easy task, but all worth the effort. 
Over the past several years, I have increasingly focused on self-care. Wandering back into yoga classes has turned into a way of life as well as an influence on how I teach. Last year I joined the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) and found a professional development program that will help prepare me to sit for board certification in holistic nursing. Interestingly, I was the only full-time educator at the first session of the program; most others were in direct-care practice. This initially surprised me and made me doubt whether my goal of certification was realistic given my practice of being an educator. However, the more I spoke with my peers and the instructors there, the more I was convinced that I was on the right path to become a holistic nurse educator!  
The AHNA emphasizes that a holistic nurse must “integrate self-care, self-responsibility, spirituality and reflection” in life, in one’s way of being (AHNA, 2011). These words spoke to me the first time I read them. As an educator, I am constantly preaching the need for self-care to my students, and it was refreshing to find a professional organization that puts this thinking first. In continuing my own education with like-minded nurses who have practiced this way for many years, I am finding validation for my feelings and encouragement for curriculum revision. As a first and ongoing step, I must assure my educational foundation so that I can then work to develop holistic qualities and enhance these characteristics in my students. Without losing sight of my professional responsibilities, I am better able to balance my self-care and find enhanced peace in both my professional and personal lives.

The undergraduate nursing program where I teach is currently in the midst of a curriculum revision, and there has been much talk centering on how to best prepare holistic nursing students. As many nursing programs do, ours has a strong emphasis on medical-surgical content, teaching students the skills they need to be safe, competent practitioners. I do not, in any way, discount the importance of this focus. However, I worry about the stress these students are under in their academic program and personal lives. If I focus only on teaching content and skills, I am not nurturing the future caregivers they will become. With this in mind, I co-developed a nursing elective course focused on self-care for students. The course has received positive feedback from both students and fellow faculty.

The self-care elective has allowed me to explore my own practices and introduce some of these to my students. During a class that focused on holism in education, I incorporated meditative activities and other fun ideas, such as line dancing. With just under 50 students, keeping them engaged was at times challenging and required some innovation. Music has provided me with stress relief and great joy throughout my life, and I took a risk playing some of my favorite songs for the class. I had two goals in mind with this exercise: 1) to provide some personal information as my students explored why certain songs were relevant in my own life, and 2) to provide some enjoyment and relaxation as the students listened to music. I was pleased with the outcome seeing some sing along while others smiled listening to the words.

Thornton (2008) discusses the need for holistic nurses to be role models and achieve optimal health in all areas of their lives. Role models come in many forms and, for undergraduate nursing students, often times these are their faculty. If students witness faculty overstressed and unhappy, this can translate to the class experience. If faculty models a commitment to caring for themselves, taking breaks, and enjoying a family life, for example, this could encourage students to do the same. Spirituality, as a means of caring for self, can be religious in its foundation or not. All of us need to determine for ourselves how to be fulfilled in every aspect of our lives. My spirituality is based in my faith, but is also tied strongly to my philosophy of life.

I still have much to learn on my path to certification, and I am excited about the journey. I plan to complete the foundational coursework this year and sit for certification in early 2013. It is a challenge to keep on track at times since my faculty position has many responsibilities and is very time consuming. In this way though, I relate to my students because they are also juggling much in their efforts to complete the nursing program. Nursing is a wonderful profession, but the reality is that it can also be very stressful. If I can give my students one tool to add to their repertoire for self-care, then I think I have done something valuable.

As my program continues on its curriculum revision, I remain committed to be the voice for self-care and preparation of holistic practitioners. When I am a patient in the healthcare system, I want a nurse who sees the whole me and takes the time to heal and nurture my soul. As a nurse educator, I offer this same commitment to my students and colleagues. 

American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA). (2011). What is holistic nursing. Retrieved October 4, 2011, from

Thornton, L. (2008). Holistic nursing: A way of being, a way of living, a way of practice. Imprint, 55(1), 32-39.

Author Bio
Nancy Laplante PhD, RN has been a nurse for more than 25 years, working in both acute care and community based settings before moving into academia. Teaching undergraduate and graduate nursing courses, she strives to role model self-care for her students in her words and actions. Dr. Laplante is committed to being a voice for curriculum change, and believes that nursing education must embrace core holistic values to prepare competent and safe practitioners for a highly stressful healthcare system.


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