Why the Humanities are Essential to Nursing

There’s no doubt about it: An RN to Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program demands that students take classes in nursing and health care.

But an RN-BS in Nursing program offers more for the professional nurse: An interdisciplinary curriculum with courses in the arts and humanities that can round out their studies.

After all, what they take away from these courses may help change the way they think about bedside care, building upon their foundational nursing knowledge in areas such as critical thinking, analytical skills, and the patient experience.

Humanities teach creative problem-solving

Ultimately, health care is a people-centered practice. Humanity is always at its heart. But nursing is also very much a science, one that involves investigation, assessment, hypothesis and the careful collection of granular data. This routine and precision is what keeps patients well-cared for, but in a technology-driven age like ours it can also lead to the belief that all the answers of modern medicine lie in textbooks, records and medical laboratories.

Wellness, suffering, progress, aging, life, death – these grand concepts are foundational issues in nursing, and they are difficult to visualize totally with one eye pressed against a microscope lens. Yes, the perfect prescription or diagnosis will have incredible short-term effects on healing and long-term effects on patient health. But completion of some humanities courses can allow students to ply the existential, philosophical and ethical zeitgeists which guide the industry in which they work. A student who plans to make an indelible impact on health care should possess both the clinical know-how to treat patients day to day as well as the curiosity to question the foundation of modern medicine, tear down what doesn’t improve quality of care and rebuild something better in its place.

Humanities teach nurses how to understand the effect of nursing on others

Building upon the core concepts of nursing is important. Humanities act as a supplementary skill set for professionals, as nurses take their medical knowledge and pair it with a more human touch with patients.

For example, a study published by Mary L. Hermann, nursing professor and program director at Gwynedd Mercy University in Pennsylvania, highlighted how Hermann used famous literature and literary criticism to challenge students. The goal was for them to consider facets of nursing that have little to do with health: building meaningful relationships, leadership, or the challenges of marginalized communities. As a result, the work demonstrably engaged nursing students and educators alike in what care is and what care means through the lens of literature.

Humanities teach how nursing exists along a continuum

Modern nursing has come a long way from Florence Nightingale, but again, humanities – in this case, history – have much to teach students of medicine about the past in order to better shape the future.

Better yet, these courses provide much-needed context for the institution of medicine as we know it today. How exactly has nursing changed since its inception? Why do medical practitioners follow the standards they do? As a basic example, consider hand hygiene common in all health clinics and hospitals today. Its benefits may seem obvious today, but what better way to express its importance than to teach nurses about the epidemiological implications of a world without it, a world only a few hundred years behind us?

Humanities teach communication

When we examine a mural or listen to a symphony or watch an experimental film, these media affect us. When we describe that mural or symphony or film to friends or colleagues, sometimes those things defy description. Is that the impact of the truly sublime, or do we lack the knowledge to express meaningfully what we experienced? Either way, we don’t clue the listener in.

Communication is the bedrock of nursing. It happens when nurses observe a rash on a patient’s back. It happens when a patient explains symptoms. It happens when two nurses work together on a single treatment plan. So when communication breaks down, confuses or fails to relate important information, the quality of care suffers. Humanities courses like public speaking or theatre teach nurses the art of communication as a method for demonstrating its value to the expresser, the listener and the subject of the conversation.

Music appreciation classes, on the other hand, stress the importance of attentive listening. Even though nurses might have 100 tasks on their plates on any given day, they cannot let their schedules distract them during the 30 minutes they spend with each patient they treat. Again, if such a thing were to happen, it would corrupt the quality of care. In a sense, humanities courses provide nurses with a safe space to drill these vital skills, make mistakes and improve over time without compromising patient health.

Humanities teach nurses to care for themselves

As noble a profession as nursing is, it is not without its challenges. So who cares for the caregivers when they need it the most? They do, and a humanities education can give them that outlet for self-care. Music, fine arts, drama or film all can serve the purpose of improving the quality of a nurse’s life outside of work.

In turn, enriching the soul and reflecting on the self also instill in nursing students the concept of holistic care. Health care professionals do more than cure the sick and heal the wounded, and medicine as a whole extends beyond biology, pathology and anatomy. Nurses must also tend to the psychological and emotional needs of their patients. To do that, they must first understand how to satisfy the needs of the person they know best: themselves.

Enroll in the Rutgers University Online BS in Nursing

If you’re a registered nurse looking for a well-rounded undergraduate nursing education but don’t know where to start, check out the Rutgers University 100% online bachelor’s degree program.

The Rutgers University B.S. in Nursing program provides working professionals with the opportunity to study and train under credentialed educators, learn about today’s health care policies and standards, and advance their careers with help from career services and job placement specialists.

Best of all, nursing students can attend their classes completely online at their leisure. Digital resources are also always available through online portals, so students can take their education on the road, studying and completing assignments wherever and whenever works for them and their busy schedules.

For more information on the Rutgers University B.S. in Nursing, visit our website.


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