November 17, 2011

From Vanderbilt Nurse: Healing Through Literature

Christine Shih cared for a range of patients – adolescents in a student health center, premature babies, elderly eye patients and adults with leukemia – then turned her attention to a different set: the Elizabeth Darcys and Fanny Prices populating the Regency-period English countryside in classic novels by Jane Austen.

Shih has always been self-taught when it comes to literature, and learned to read on her own at age 3. Reading became like breathing, literature like food, and even today Shih always has a small book of poetry tucked in her purse.

A music scholarship took her to Louisiana State University, but she quickly realized the music profession demanded a lot of competition for unpredictable rewards. A degree in behavioral psychology offered the practicality she was looking for, but that seemed to point to graduate school in psychology and Shih worried about being pigeonholed in mental health. Her future husband, Kent, had her talk with a friend who was doing her pediatric medical residency.

“She said ‘If I could do it all over again, I would have done a pediatric nurse practitioner master’s degree at Vanderbilt,’” Shih recalled. “It was because of the flexibility it could give me when I became a mother and flexibility over time because the nursing profession is unending.”

Shih took that advice to heart, enrolling in the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing bridge program in 1997 while her husband completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Read the full story by Leslie Hill in the current edition of Vanderbilt Nurse.