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Storytelling Training: Introduction To Public Narrative

This blog was originally published by the Nursing Now Challenge

Despite being recognized as one of the most successful public health measures, COVID-19 vaccination is perceived as unsafe and unnecessary by a growing number of individuals in our communities. What I have seen is that lack of confidence in vaccines is a threat to the success of the COVID-19 vaccination program. I believe vaccine acceptance issues are responsible for decreasing vaccine coverage and an increasing risk of COVID-19 vaccine-preventable morbidity and mortality.

Last week, along with six other global nurses and midwives, I began a six-week training course led by a leading storytelling and leadership trainer Dr. Pedja Stojicic of People Power Health. This training course came at an opportune time where I envisaged generating more advocates of the COVID-19 vaccine by supporting nurses to be advocates for vaccine equity and acceptance.

Our first session provided an introduction to public narrative and taught me that telling stories, a practice that I consider to be an effective engagement skill, never gets old. Our brains have a need for narrative, whether it’s schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models or metaphors. In many ways, stories are how we think and make sense of the world around us, and this extends to health concepts as well. In presentations and in public speaking, I have learned that stories are the most effective way of organizing information. As a powerful form of communication, stories translate ideas and move people to action.

We all know the versatility of and within our profession. Because of COVID-19, our colleagues from outpatient areas were being reassigned to inpatient clinical units and nurses working on inpatient units were preparing to transition to critical care units and so on and so forth. We all know that they had no choice but to be versatile and adapt. Because of these reassignments, our colleagues have gained even more experience and so will have even more stories to tell and use to influence policy and drive vaccine equity and acceptance.

The key rule of telling stories is to give the audience an emotional experience. In order to have the desired impact, it is important to tell purposeful stories that reach the hearts and minds of the audience and move them to the action. For instance, a key message like: “Access to vaccination is part of the human right to health. Equity and the availability of and access to vaccines, medicines, health technologies, and therapies are an essential dimension of the right to health, which engages the immediate responsibility of States”, can be conveyed through storytelling. A well-prepared nurse or member of the community could tell a lived story of the repercussions of limited access to vaccines.

Nurses are uniquely positioned to establish and maintain an environment where consumers of health services feel supported and encouraged. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of nurses and nursing practice. For us, the pandemic provided a challenge that allowed us to showcase the importance of a versatile nurse with effective engagement skills.