4 Mindful Techniques to Help Nursing Students Open Up About Health Equity & Social Justice

4 Mindful Techniques to Help Nursing Students Open Up About Health Equity & Social Justice

By: Nicole Akparewa

“Ok nursing students, I have something different for post-conference today.  Who wants to color?” My students eyes brightened and I saw smiles all around. The bright colors and intricate patterns seemed to be more engaging than me, ha!

While they colored, I asked a tougher question. “Who can tell me about unconscious bias?”

Often tough conversations have a tendency to make instructors and students shut down. Creating a mindful environment—sometimes with the help of a coloring book—can help everyone feel safe enough to open up.

Asking powerful and often tough questions is a necessary part of the clinical nursing experience, so having instructors who know how to set the tone for students to open up is critical to the students’ growth. We need to address social justice, cultural humility, and diversity and inclusion in clinical as well as in the classroom to prepare nursing students for real life experiences.  Doing so with patience, safety, and skill is even more important.  Now more than ever, we have incredible diversity in nursing students—students of different socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, cultures, students who are differently abled, and even international students.

That’s why instructors need to create an inclusive environment. Let me share with you some simple and easy to use strategies to keep students feeling safe, open, and engaged (i.e awake) enough to have these tough conversations.

  1. Create a mindful environment
    Let students know that what is shared in clinical needs to remain in clinical.  This helps students feel safe enough to open up about their lives and experiences.
  2. Practice a mindful technique to shift from clinical to post-conference
    Mindfulness is a mental state that one achieves by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It allows the body to relax so that the mind can be more present. In teaching, this helps students to be more reflective. Any number of activities (for example coloring, deep breathing, or laughter yoga) can help students shift into a space for richer conversation.22 mindfulness techniques for adults
  3. Open up first
    Instructors want to keep personal and professional lives separate and for the most part that will work.  However, when having these emotionally tense conversations, students need to know that you are invested.  When I share my experience of being the mother of a black male child in Baltimore students find their stories a little easier to share.
  4. Lean into discomfort
    These are not easy conversations to have.  We all have a culture and values that shape our opinions and those may be very different.  However, our common thread is that we will be respectful towards one another in conversation because we know that clinical is sacred space to share intimate truths.

I won’t say that every one of these conversations are easy, but they help us to see one another more clearly.  Our culture can tempt us to wear different masks, but setting the tone for safe, respectful dialogue can give us the opportunity to take that mask off for a while and get a breath of fresh air.  Students thank me for asking those tough questions; many say it changes not only their professional nursing perspective, but their personal one as well.

We need to have more conversations like this in nursing school classrooms.  These conversations lead into the larger responsibility of nurses to represent social justice and equity and teach students to advocate for their patients. Knowing the rich context of each other’s’ lives helps us to appreciate our patients lived experiences.

Thanks for reading my thoughts, I hope you learned something. I am forever learning from others. For more information please see my website at www.transformnursing.com and check out my blogs! Also, I’ve launched a course just for nurses called the Nurse’s Influential Leadership. Subscribe to my site to find out when I will be doing live webinars where you can learn more about the course!

This blog is a part of the “Dialogues in Health Equity” series by the Health Equity Faculty Interest Group. They are committed to decreasing health disparities experienced by local and global communities by promoting social justice and health equity through nursing practice, research, education, and service.

Dialogues in Health Equity

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Nicole Akparewa earned her MSN/MPH from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 2009 and taught here between 2015-2017. Currently she is a nurse entrepreneur and the Creative Director of Transform Nursing, an organization that aims to equip nurses globally with the tools to confidently provide socially just care to diverse populations.  She offers a course specifically for nurses to build their social justice leadership capacity into civic engagement. With over a decade of experiences in international nursing, critical care, hospital and community based care, Nikki is an expert on navigating tough conversations around race, class and other social structures that nurses need to learn to deliver safe and compassionate care. Learn more about her at www.transformnursing.com or by emailing her at [email protected].

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