The “what nursing means to me” reflective essay is something often asked of students entering an accelerated nursing program, a master’s level course for nursing, or some other specialized program. Unlike a nursing school letter of intent or nursing school application cover letter, the “what nursing means to me” reflective essay gives you a chance to state and defend an argument regarding something you feel deeply about, namely, being a nurse. It can detail professional setbacks or successes. It can be a venue to express opinions and criticism of the profession. You can also write about important personal events in the past, before you became a nurse, which had some impact on why you chose this profession. This article will explore the nature of the reflective essay, its essential elements, the structure of an excellent reflective essay and provide examples.

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What is a Reflective Essay? What To Include What Not to Include Structure “What Nursing Means to Me” Reflective Essay Samples Conclusion FAQs

What Is a Reflective Essay?

A reflective essay is like a regular essay, but the subject matter is you. You must state a thesis about yourself and choose a specific event from your past or something similar on which to build an argument supporting your thesis. The main impetus of a reflective essay is to get you to reveal growth and how a particular event in your life changed you, your perceptions, beliefs, and so on.

But there are other things a reflective essay can reveal about you. In the context of writing a reflective essay connected with a nursing school application resume, you can also use the essay to state your larger career goals and ambitions as a nurse and how you see the role changing and evolving.

How does the “what nursing means to me” reflective essay differ from a nursing school personal statement? Part of the answer is that a personal statement can include many different details from the past and does not have to take the form of a standard essay – introduction, thesis statement, supporting arguments. You can write a personal statement without including anything about your professional achievements or anything directly related to nursing. But a “what nursing means to me” reflective essay is the complete opposite. It is aimed at exploring how being a nurse or nursing student has directly impacted your worldview.

Depending on where and why you are asked to write a “what nursing means to me” reflective essay, there may be certain content and style guidelines you must follow, based on that program’s requirements. Some reflective essays use prompts or questions about nursing to give you a starting point for what to write. In these cases, how you write is up to you, but there are certain elements that are key to every outstanding reflective essay that you should incorporate into your writing. Here, we list elements you can include in the body of your essay to create a template of what your essay should look like.

What To Include

The Inciting Incident 

In university, reflective essays tend to revolve around coursework and materials to show how you’ve interacted with them. But according to many nursing essay writing services, a “what nursing means to me” reflective essay can structure itself around a catalyzing event. A traumatic injury. A death in the family. Moving to a new country.

If you haven’t been given instructions on what to write about in your “what nursing means to me” reflective essay, then you can choose a specific, life-altering event in your past that had and continues to have an impact on you. Many reflective essays take this path, but you do not have to, especially if you are asked to write about something else.

If you do write about a specific incident, be as specific as possible. Who did it involve? Where did it take place? What was the lead-up like? Of course, if you have word limits, then you can cut out unnecessary parts in your second draft, but for your first draft, you should be as detailed as possible and then make cuts later.

Personal Reflections 

The most obvious point of a reflective essay is to reflect. Nursing school admissions officers want to know how you interpreted, compartmentalized, and dealt with an extreme situation related to being a health care worker, since everyone knows that being a health care worker exposes you to things most people never see. You can talk openly about what you’ve experienced in the nursing profession or during your schooling and, finally, express emotions you were not able to at the time. However, those emotions must also connect with an action you took later on to show that they led to some deep-seated change in your personality or outlook.

Specific Details 

The topic of your essay should focus on a specific time, place, or incident and not stray into generalities. You want to place your readers in a setting they can understand, so that they can see the story as it unfolds. Remember: show, don’t tell. This is your personal story, so enrich it with specific details, like the time of year, the weather outside, some important event that happened at the same time, anything that makes the universal personal.

Your Actions 

After you set the scene with vivid descriptions and a concrete location, you can start to bring yourself into the narrative. Take a step-by-step approach to write about how the specific event unfolded – before/during/after – and make sure to detail as much as you can about each step.

You can write about what your expectations were beforehand and what happened afterward. What was the aftermath like? What did you feel, physically, emotionally? What did you do? Were you in any danger? You can talk both about your physical and emotional reactions but remember that a reflective essay should walk a fine line between being a subjective and objective retelling of a major event so do not go too far either way.

What Not to Include

Academic Details/Achievements 

The reflective essay sits apart from other documentation like a nursing school recommendation letter and is not a place for you to recite your professional or academic CV. All the information about your academic achievements (GPA, transcripts) has already been reviewed, so the audience is not interested in hearing about it again.

Your reflective essay is a space for you to encapsulate something about yourself in a calm, measured tone. Of course, you can mention things about school that impacted you personally or an event that took place during your education, but reciting your CV looks boastful and misses the point of the reflective essay.

Too Many Emotions 

The “what nursing means to me” reflective essay can contain many powerful emotions, but the language should always remain coherent and precise. You do not want to dwell on positive or negative emotions but instead, use them to push along your overall narrative. You can explain about how something made you feel, but then transition to what actions those emotions made you take.



The introduction of any essay should present the topic about which you are going to write and hook the reader with an intriguing line. Afterward, you can briefly mention where you are in your career (registered nurse, nursing school applicant, grad school candidate) for context, but most of your introduction should be about the subject matter at hand, like the event you want to talk about or the general themes you want to explore.

You can also present your thesis in the introduction or keep it for a later paragraph if you want to structure your essay that way. After the introduction, you can begin to narrow your focus down to the inciting incident and move closer to finalizing your argument. You can also begin inserting background elements of your narrative like when and where it happened.

Thesis Statement/First Paragraph 

If you put your thesis in the introduction, you can begin positing your arguments supporting it in the first paragraph of the body section. But you can also put your thesis here and begin expounding on your arguments in the proceeding sections. If you are writing about a specific event, this is where you would set the stage for what happens next.

Build your narrative toward a climax by describing where you were, what you were doing, and what expectations you had. When you reveal what happened, use that as a springboard to talk about the aftermath – how the event affected you and what you began to understand about it – which is what will lead you to your second paragraph.

Second Paragraph 

The second paragraph can contain the “reflective” part of your essay, where you unpack the event and examine how it impacted you. You want to mention how you changed and how you began to see things differently while also expounding on the potential growth that this moment presented for you as a person and as a health care professional.


The end of your essay should tie into the thesis and summarize the best argument supporting it. You can draw from the body section to make the connections between your thesis and the other sections and ultimately land on a conclusion. It should reveal something significant you learned or realized because of that event and how it continues to shape you.

“What Nursing Means to Me” Reflective Essay Samples

“What Nursing Means to Me” Reflective Essay Sample #1 

Things came into focus when I started coughing up blood. Up until then I was sure things would get better and that the danger would pass. Even though a doctor had told me I needed to be hospitalized, I thought nothing was wrong and that I would be okay. I told him to give me some antibiotics and send me home. But from one minute to the next, in the space of a heartbeat, something gave way, and I would not be the same again.

I have been lucky most of my life. I had never been seriously ill or broken anything. I had family members succumb to illnesses, but I hadn’t so much as scraped an elbow. I never thought about my fragility and vulnerability until I was forced to reckon with them when I was hospitalized with pneumonia.

Going to the hospital in an ambulance for the first time was nerve-wracking. I lay in the gurney with an oxygen mask over my face as the paramedics looked at my vital signs. I was feverish, short of breath, and still coughing, so there was barely any time to think or reflect. Things had progressed so fast that I had left my house still in my pajamas.

One of the first things that happened when I got to the hospital was that the attending nurse took my hand and told me, “You’re in good hands now, darling.” It was such a small gesture. She must have done it for everyone who came in, terrified, scared, and lonely. She knew what they were feeling, which is why she said it to everyone.

I spent almost two weeks in the hospital recovering, but that nurse came to see me every day and spent time with me, even with her busy schedule. She made the time. It was after one of her visits that the thought of being like her one day came into my mind. I was in my first year of undergrad and still hadn’t thought about my future.

The experience of being seriously ill made me realize how much we depend on the strangers who have committed their lives to helping the infirm. It is a vital role that nurses play in helping the ill feel whole again, often more so than doctors, because nurses spend more time with patients than any other health care professional.

The nurse who greeted me at the hospital entrance also helped me bring things into focus. Seeing up close the damage an illness like pneumonia can cause was one wake-up call, but the nurse who comforted me when I felt like the world was ending also woke me up. She met my fear and anxiety with compassion and understanding. She created the mold that I now wish to fill with my career and advancement in the nursing profession.

“What Nursing Means to Me” Reflective Essay Sample #2 

It was bright and sunny the day my mother died. She died in the early morning, and when I looked out the window of her room – she died at home – I could see people waiting for the bus, going on their way to work, completely unaware that I had lost the most important person in my life.

I wanted to go outside, tears streaming down my face, and tell everyone my mother had died. I wanted to spread my grief. I wanted the world to stop and acknowledge my loss. Grief was something new, and I didn’t know how to manage it.

I went on anti-depressants and began to self-medicate as well because I couldn’t stand the pain. I was going down a self-destructive path, and no one in my immediate family knew what to do. It was only through circumstance that my path was corrected before it led farther into darkness.

One afternoon, months after my mother’s death, I was at her house, arranging and organizing her belongings, when the palliative care nurse who had treated my mother at home came by to collect the medical supplies that had been left behind. It was pure luck that I was at home when she came.

I answered the door and invited her in. I explained what I was doing, and she told me why she was there. We went to the kitchen because she said she had some papers for me to sign. I don’t know why exactly, but between putting the kettle on for some tea and signing the papers, I started to cry. It was something I had been doing regularly, breaking down in public or suddenly, without warning. But that day, I showed my vulnerability to the right person.

The nurse, named Sylvia, rose immediately and gave me a hug. She held me as I wept and then began to tell me that she still mourns her sister. Her sister had died from the same illness as my mother and, according to Sylvia, had suffered just as much. Sylvia told me that she had dealt with her sister’s passing by pushing herself through nursing school. She wanted to memorialize her sister’s memory through the work she does every day as a nurse. Instead of letting her sister’s death tear her apart, like my mother’s death was doing to me, Sylvia took motivation from it and committed to becoming a person who helps people transition from life to death.

Sylvia told me that the pain never goes away, but it does lessen and when you are helping save lives and taking care of the most vulnerable people, it lessens even more. That day, Sylvia showed me the heights nurses can reach through their empathy and knowledge, not just as nurses but as human beings. Sylvia’s strength was my scaffold during an unsteady time, in addition to being the light that inspired me to become a nurse myself.


The thoughts in a reflective essay are your own, so you should not shy away from saying as much as possible, like the fact that you were afraid or felt negative emotions like anger, hatred, or despair. This is what the reflective essay is all about. If your essay is about a specific event in your past, then you should write about it in detail. You can allude to it in your introduction and build up to it through your main paragraphs, or not mention it at all in your introduction and reveal it later.

Being any kind of health care worker is demanding and stressful, but it can also be rewarding and humbling. The “what nursing means to me” reflective essay is the perfect way to talk about a moving or troubling incident in the past if you hadn’t had the chance to explore it before. It is not always possible for nurses and other health care professionals to express the emotions that come with the job, and working with a nursing essay writing service can help you craft a truly impressive account of an event that marked you deeply. 


1. What is the “what nursing means to me” reflective essay?

This essay is meant to help you express what is most important to you about being a nurse and reveal how you stay motivated. 

2. What is the purpose of a “what nursing means to me” reflective essay?

The purpose of the essay is to let nursing school admissions officers know how you understand and interpret the nursing profession and what aspects of it appeal to you the most.

3. How should I write the “what nursing means to me” reflective essay?

You can structure your essay around a specific event and then describe what happened before, during, and after this event. You can also talk about why this event means so much to you or what about it reflects the best aspects of nursing.

4. What should I write in my “what nursing means to me” reflective essay?

You should think about the reasons you wanted to become a nurse and what about your character or personality will sustain you throughout your career.

5. How long does the “what nursing means to me” reflective essay have to be?

The length of your essay depends on the requirements of your particular program or school, since they all have different requirements.

6. What’s the difference between a personal statement and a reflective essay?

A personal statement is a general background story of why you want to pursue a degree or get into nursing school, but a reflective essay specifically asks you to pick a particular moment and think about how it affected your career. So, a reflective essay is the reverse of a personal statement: rather than relating how personal experiences have shaped your personality, you write about how being a nurse has changed you personally.

7. What’s the difference between a letter of intent and a reflective essay?

A letter of intent looks at how your education, work experience, and anything else related to the nursing profession has prepared you to become a nurse, and also asks what you plan to achieve. A reflective essay does not focus on academic achievements but asks you to interpret a moment in the past. 

8. Do I have to write a “what nursing means to me” reflective essay?

Not all nursing schools or graduate programs will ask for a reflective essay. Admission requirements are different for every school, so make sure you know what they are before you apply. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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