Poetry & Research

On Monday, we talked a lot about poetry from the perspective of individuals that had gone through a particular experience or event. This immediately made me think of a research article that one of our nursing professors (Dr. Kooken) wrote, entitled “I’ve Been Through Something”: Poet Explorations of African American Women’s Cancer Survivorship”. In this article, she and several other researchers interviewed African American women about their experiences in the hospital with breast cancer, and documented their findings, whether they were good or bad.  Using the stories and words of these women, they then decided to turn some of these experiences into poems. Here are a couple of the poems documenting experiences of discrimination from the healthcare system:

ERAC (backwards care)

I never thought about the cancer spreading.

I cannot believe my ears.

Two doctors examining me

talking to each other,

as if I am not there.

I guess I should be glad

at least they talk among themselves.

It is the only way to get

information about myself.

Doctor, you act like

you’re scared to touch me.

Is it because I am….

or because you are….

because I am….

African American?

Tell me all the side effects

what to look for- what to do,

In case I go to the hospital

and have to take care of



The Pink Ribbon Shield

You have to watch

when you go to the doctor.

Sometimes, they be in a hurry-

and they’ll grab your arm-

they will grab that wrong arm.

Wearing my pin-

so doctors and nurses can see.

“That’s the wrong arm

to put the IV”

and that nurse

she wanted to argue with me.

“Go check your records”

(they don’t have time

to read my history).

Wearing my pin-

so doctors and nurses can see.

So they put a sign

over the bed—

No sticks or BPs left arm.

Supposed to alert people,

help keep me from harm.

But they come in the room-

do the bed- never looking at me-

So they did not see the sign either-

Wearing my pin-

so doctors and nurses can see.  

I asked her if she had any fears about writing this article along with these poems, and she said that her biggest concern was making sure she was staying true to what the women were saying. This this is still a scientific article, and it is important that she stays true to how the participants experienced their particular situation. Those that had negative experiences are still just important as those whose went well.

A lot of people don’t want to have the conversation about the possibility that discrimination exists in our healthcare system, and so even though these poems aren’t exactly “political”, I still think that they address  a very important subject that is happening right now. Also, it’s just neat how she incorporated poems into a qualitative research article. It definitely gives it a much more emotional tone, and I feel like these women have more of a “voice”. Here is a link to the actual article that includes more poems with more information about the actual research:


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2 Responses to Poetry & Research

  1. Andrea Kirby says:

    I LOVE that you made this connection Rachel!!!! As soon as you mentioned it, I remembered her showing us these poems. Maybe we as nurses can use the art of poetry to help patients cope, or suggest writing as an outlet for their fears or frustrations. I think it is great that you were able to tie these two classes together. I hope that I can remember this someday when I am working with patients. Thanks Rachel! 🙂

  2. Sara Helm says:

    I experienced hearing these poems in our Nursing and Society class last fall as well. I strongly believe that poetry like this is very powerful not only because it depicts a person’s first hand feelings and experiences, but it also places more value on the patient. We as nursing student here at IWU are constantly being taught new ways to maintain a “holistic approach” to caring for a patient. Through addressing a patient’s physical and emotional needs, the patient tends to feel more comfortable and sincerely cared for, as opposed to simply feeling like another patient being treated for an illness and then sent home. By constantly asking the patient how they are feeling, and if there is anything that we as nurses can do to make their time in the hospital more tolerable and comforting, we are establishing a pattern of trust. Dr. Kooken has been my clinical instructor this semester and through my first-hand observation, I noticed that she has a knack for not only treating the patient medically, but also forming a bond of trust. She is a phenomenal nurse and these poems really allowed the patient’s to get there feelings not only out in the open but acknowledged and respected.

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