Once nurses get passed that point in college where we have to read books to pass a class, a lot of us fail to continue reading after graduation – and that’s a shame. Speaking for myself, after I finished nursing school, it was several years before I picked up any books to read for my own enjoyment.
Three years after I graduated, I had settled in nicely to a comfortable staff position at a local community hospital. As I was working full-time as a registered nurse on the night shift, I noticed a lot of nurses would keep books handy and get into reading during downtime. At the hospital I worked at, we were often not very busy at all and there were many nights where we would have several hours of downtime. I decided to pick up a book and start reading to pass the time and to help me stay awake during those long hours.
The first book I read as a nurse was “The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton. As I already had an interest in becoming a travel nurse, this piece of literature sent my dreams sailing as the author explored all the reasons why you should travel. I was hooked. Travel literature has been my favorite genre ever since. Reading other people’s stories about traveling helped build my confidence and courage to one day become a travel nurse myself, which I did.
What I discovered through my own experiences with reading is that I had tapped into a goldmine of benefits:
- it’s inexpensive;
- it’s easy to access;
- it’s good for the body, spirit, and mind; and
- research confirms it helps establish joy and relieve stress.
Reading is a Valuable Benefit for People of Any Age
You’re never “too old” to reap the health benefits of picking up a good book. While a lot of studies look directly at children reading for their own success, there are also numerous health benefits for adults who read. Studies demonstrate that by keeping your brain actively engaged, you can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and prevent dementia. Reading is a perfect way to keep your brain fully engaged.
Furthermore, it matters what type of content you are reading. For instance, people who read a lot of fiction have been shown to have a greater capacity for empathy. The very act of reading fiction material is a mental health exercise that demonstrates the art of mindfulness.
A Nurse’s Life is Enriched and Improved Through Reading
Healthcare professionals, including nurses, who read report a host of benefits it has on their lives. According to American Nurse Today:
“Among healthcare professionals, mindfulness training can reduce psychological and physiologic stress, emotional distress, and burnout while improving empathy, job satisfaction, and sense of well-being.”American Nurse Today
Steve Wooten, a retired nurse who holds a bachelor’s degree in science and nursing, has first-hand experience that echoes the reported findings. He states: “You lose yourself when you read; you’re in a different world. Your imagination can really work then, as you create themes and scenarios, pictures in your mind.”
And most importantly for a nurse, Wooten added: “Your stresses and everyday life go away for a while. You can be a different person, any of the characters in the book, for the hours that you’re reading.”
From his own personal experience, he finds himself connecting with books written by Stephen King. His favorite title is “The Tommyknockers“, which tells a tale of a tiny metal object that turns a small town in Maine into a death trap. About his choice of material, Wooten states:
“He’s detailed enough to really get you into his world, I love it. And he’s got that dark streak, which is perfect for a nurse’s point of view. His scare tactics are also ideal for us adrenalin junkies.”Steve Wooten
Reading Confirmed to have Stress-Relieving Qualities
A nursing career is one that is challenging and can often cause stress. That brings us to possibly the best benefit of reading for nurses. Neuroscientists at Emory University proved that reading relaxes the body while improving brain function in a 2013 study. Magnetic resonance imaging was used in the study in order to compare the resting-state brain activity to those who had read fiction for nine consecutive days. Positive changes in connectivity were observed after the novel reading. Sometimes this effect would last up to five days and proved the health benefits of reading. Lead researcher of the study, Dr. Gregory S. Berns told Literacy Works:
“At a minimum, we can say that reading stories—especially those with strong narrative arcs—reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days.”Literacy Works
In another instance, he told Mother Nature Network in an interview:
“Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity. We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.”Mother Nature Network
If you want to inspire yourself to jump on the reading bandwagon and get that joy flowing and stress levels down, here are a few tips:
- Join in with your high schooler’s summer reading list. You can connect and bond with your child through sharing literature at the same time and you will have a list of highly recommended books that are going to be good.
- Take a book with you for a day at the beach. Nothing quite soothes the soul like the sound of crashing waves as you lose yourself in a good book. Do this as often as you can. If you’re working as a travel nurse, consider taking assignments near the ocean for this reason.
- Sign up for a summer reading initiative. Libraries and online sites have different lists and reading challenges that adults can sign up for to help ignite a passion for reading.
- Join a book club. Not only are book clubs a social way to build relationships and connect with people through literature, but they’re also tools that can keep you more accountable for your reading exercises.
With all the health benefits of reading for nurses presented here, it would be impossible to argue that reading isn’t worth the time. Get yourself a good book and dig into the storyline today.