NURSES are being prescribed poetry to help them cope with the stress of their duties at a time when they are under extraordinary pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

The nursing and midwifery profession is gifting a book of poems titled Mind Your Life, to all nurses and midwives graduating in Scotland over the next three years.

The pocket-sized poetry book can be slipped inside a uniform and be carried around to be dipped into on breaks, intended to offer them support, comfort and inspiration during their first year in the job, as well as to encourage readers to remember to take care of themselves, as well as others.

The anthology comes out at a time in the International Year of Nurses and Midwives, and at time when Covid is putting additional pressure on the profession, with nurses’ physical and mental health under attack from distress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic.

“The poems explore the meaning of nursing, midwifery and compassion in order to promote the newly qualified nurses and midwives’ self-care and wellbeing,” said Dr Marti Balaam, one of the editors, who is the senior teaching fellow in Nursing Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

“To have compassion, it’s important to look after ourselves before we look after people, and nurses don’t tend to look after themselves. 

"This poetry book is a gift to give solace to new nurses and midwives and is an antidote to the increasing challenges of their working lives.

“Poetry can take you to a place of emotional safety and release, and give you comfort and encouragement in the darkest times, when you are going through adversity, and help you overcome.

“I tell my students that they can’t run on an empty battery and that poetry is one of the tools we can use to recharge.”

The anthology has poems on kindness, hope, exhaustion and grit by poets including 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, Brian Bilston’s poem ‘Kindness’ about the global pandemic, and Scottish Makar Jackie Kay. It is supported by former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke, and singer Susan Boyle.

Mr Rosen, who was treated in intensive care for Covid, said: “You are heroes. I can say in all honesty, hand on heart, that the work of nurses, at some risk to themselves, has saved my life. And not just my life; the lives of tens of thousands of us. I’ll be forever grateful.”

Ms Clarke, who had an aneurysm and founded the charity SameYou for brain injury recovery, said: “It is vital that we show nurses and midwives the love and appreciation they deserve, and I couldn’t think of a more beautiful offering than this collection of magic to remind them why they are integral to our collective lives, to every nurse and midwife in the world, we thank you.”

Singing sensation Ms Boyle, who cared for her mother until her death, said, “Beautifully curated words of wisdom for the true heroes of healthcare, our nurses and midwives.”

The book is divided into five sections, which reflect the issues and emotions faced by nurses. 

It begins with ‘Kindness’, focusing on compassion for ourselves and others, and follows on with ‘Setting Out’, poems of hope through adversity.

‘Grit and Grace’ is honest about some of the hard times that are part of the caring profession, while ‘Still We Rise’, taken from the Maya Angelou poem, ends with an inspiring call to action about the ability to overcome difficult situations.

The anthology is co-published by the Scottish Poetry Library and Polygon as part of their ‘Pocket Poetry’ series along with Tools of the Trade: Poems for new Doctors and To Learn the Future: Poems for Teachers, all gifted to graduates in their respective professions each year.

The poetry book, which can be ordered from the Scottish Poetry Library, is supported by the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Medical and Dental Defence Union Scotland (MDDUS).

Scottish Poetry Library Director Asif Khan said: “Poetry is an ideal medium for helping to build one’s resilience and emotional intelligence.

"Our pocket-sized collections presented to graduating doctors, teachers, and now nurses and midwives, have proven popular with recipients and we continue to seek new ways of engaging with professional sectors across Scotland on creative words for wellbeing.”

Professor Christie Watson, bestselling author of The Language of Kindness and patron of the Royal College of Nursing Foundation, said: “Poetry – like nursing – reminds us of what it means to be human. 

"This beautiful anthology gets to the heart of why nurses do what we do. I hope you find comfort and joy in these words.”

Chris Kenny, chief executive of MDDUS, said: “When every day – and every birth – is different, nurses and midwives see it all.

"My hope is, as years pass, this little book will restore and remind today’s newly-graduated nurses and midwives why they chose their profession, that what they do matters and how much their patients appreciate them.”