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Play Shows the Power of Compassion to Nursing Students

Posted by Marc Costanzo Friday, Oct. 23, 2015

You wouldn’t expect students at a nursing and allied health college to be acting out a play in front of their classmates, but Nebraska Methodist College isn’t like most places.

Nursing students recently had the chance to perform a play called “Wit,” by Margaret Edson. The play, which won a Pulitzer Prize, depicts the struggles of an English lit professor who discovers she has cancer.

NMC nursing staff as the cast of Wit

What’s eye-opening about the play isn’t the fact that she is diagnosed with cancer, a plot twist that comes early in the proceedings. That’s not where the drama lies. Rather than focusing on the cancer, the play brilliantly shows how the main character confronts a healthcare system that treats her as just another number, a research subject they can base future papers on.

That’s about the polar opposite of what we teach at Nebraska Methodist College, and by showing students the dangers of not treating a patient with the proper respect (as well as how easy it is to fall into this trap), these future nurses get a very real sense of how important their job truly is.

I had a chance to speak with Janette, who portrayed the main character, Dr. Vivian Bearing, as she struggles to cope with an uncaring system, and Madeline, who, along with one of her other classmates, had the opportunity to direct the proceedings.

“Nursing is something that comes very naturally to me,” said Madeline. “Acting not so much. I am not a very theatrical person. I was a bit intimidated at the idea of performing a full length play.”

Wit Performance by NMC nursing students

Janette had similar concerns. “When she said that we were going to act out the play, I was a bit skeptical. My classmates and I ‘auditioned’ for parts during class.  We each had the opportunity to read for our instructors.”

Janette’s background in plays and musicals while in high school must have worked to her advantage, as she was chosen to portray Dr. Bearing, who carries the weight of the production on her shoulders. But it was another experience that hit a bit closer to home that helped her relate to the character on a more personal level.

“My dad had cancer, and I can vividly remember the overwhelming news of receiving the cancer diagnosis, and then subsequently, all the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that followed.  I believe having that personal experience, coupled with the practical clinical knowledge, helped me to transition from learning about nursing to acting it out in a play.

“The characters of the play really show two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to healthcare.  Susie showed genuine interest in her patient, Vivian, and was her advocate, especially at the end.  Dr. Posner saw patient care only as a means to the end.

“This play exemplified the need to care for patients on several levels. Just satisfying the clinical aspects is not enough. God made humans very complex, so as nurses, we must care for the whole patient: physically, emotionally and spiritually. That is what I will strive for as a nurse.”


The play had a big impact on Madeline as well:

“I learned more from the play than I anticipated. Theater is out of my comfort zone, and I’m glad I stepped outside of it.

“The play gave me very valuable insight into the patient perspective.  In the classroom we learn the science of nursing and how to conduct ourselves as a nurse. A patient’s personal narrative is the most valuable source of information available for nurses.

Our own personal biases and preconceived notions should never interfere with patient care. As time passes and patients come and go, our interactions can become impersonal and even mechanical. One size does not fit all when caring for others.  ‘Wit’ reinforces the importance of empathy and understanding with every single person we encounter.”

Seeing and participating in a play like “Wit” allows our students the chance to see the human part of healthcare that so often gets overlooked. Janette, Madeline and everyone who participated should be proud of what they accomplished.

There may not be Tony awards for nursing, but if there were, we know that Nebraska Methodist College students would win each and every year.

Topics: nurse education, student spotlight, nursing

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