The What, the Why, and the How

What happens when nurses tell stories? Nurstory is a project that brings nurses together to make short movies from stories they find in themselves and in each other, during intense workshops. Nurses reflect on how their lives affect their practice, and on how their practice affects their lives.

For the most part, nurses practice behind pulled curtains, closed doors, and singularly, with one patient at a time. Shifts change and the ritual of “report” – the passing on of objective and subjective information about patients, stands in for storytelling, in the field of nursing. Rarely is there a chance, other than through the sharing of tales of nightmarish patient encounters over drinks, for nurses to reflect on their practice. Nursing education does not prepare its practitioners to write or reflect, often squeezing out creativity and subjectivity. Without opportunities for reflection, nurses struggle to process the suffering and victories they experience with their patients.

In 2008, nursing faculty, researcher, and documentary filmmaker with Seedworks Films, Sue Hagedorn, and the founders of the digital storytelling movement, StoryCenter, began Nurstory, a collaborative project that examines how personal stories of nurses and other providers can contribute to nursing education. Together, they led a series of three digital storytelling workshops at the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center and School of Nursing, bringing together nursing faculty from around the country to share their own stories about nurse–patient relationships. Nurse participants were hungry to share stories about challenges and formative decisions they make, in nursing. They cried, supported each other, and shared truths they hadn’t recognized before attending the workshops. The resulting stories are being used to engage nursing faculty, nursing doctoral candidates, and practicing providers in dialogue about health care ethics, the value of reflective practices for providers, the need to address secondary trauma, among nurses, and the true meaning of care, in the context of a changing health environment.


In subsequent phases of the project, Sue and StoryCenter co-produced a short-form documentary about the Nurstory digital storytelling process and supported the Center for Social Justice in Nursing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in conducting a workshop to gather stories of struggles for justice within the nursing field. Nurstory also led StoryCenter to an ongoing partnership with the Center for Medical Transport Research (TCMTR), which has sponsored a total of seven digital storytelling workshops with air medical flight crash survivors, whose stories are being shared to help create a culture of safety within the industry.

Past Digital Storytelling Workshops

  • 2008: Three pilot workshops at the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center and School of Nursing, with nursing faculty from UC Denver and around the country.
  • 2009 - 2016: Seven workshops with, first, The Center for Medical Transport Research, and later, with the Medevac Foundation, focusing on safety within the air medical transport industry.
  • 2010: A workshop with nursing faculty at the Beth-El College of Nursing & Health Sciences.
  • 2010: A workshop in conjunction with the International Association of Forensic Nurses, focusing on the stories that forensic nurses carry with them and supporting nurses in processing how they do what they do. Resulted in the documentary Small Moments, Big Stories (above).
  • 2014: A workshop with aging nurses for the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center, the Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 
  • 2015: A workshop with faculty and doctoral students at the Center for Social Justice in Nursing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, focusing on social justice in nursing practice. Stories screened at the Social Justice in Nursing Symposium.
  • 2015: A workshop with nursing faculty at Excelsior College, who plan to help veterans choose a career in nursing upon re-entry to the U.S.
  • 2016: A second workshop with the Center for Social Justice in Nursing at UMass Amherst, focusing on opiate addiction and nursing.

I have grown close with several of them (fellow digital storytelling workshop participants) over our time there and going forward. The workshop is stressful for some to have everything condensed down into a 2-3 minute story, but I think everyone in my group did a really great job at it. But it was a great experience for everyone that comes to do the story.
— Dustin Dalton, Digital Storytelling Workshop Participant