Barbara Dossey

Barbara Dossey is the author of many award-winning books including her latest, Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer. Focusing on the philosophical and practical impact of Florence Nightingale’s life and work on modern nursing and humankind, it was awarded the 2005 book of the year by the American Journal of Nursing

Dr. L: You are known as one of the “Mothers” of the Holistic Medicine movement, how did this come about?

BD: In the early seventies I was a critical care nurse working with cardiac patients and my colleagues and I started asking ourselves “What else can we offer these patients who are so anxious after open heart surgery and in a critical care setting?” So I began to work at what we now call “holistic nursing” and in the early eighties, we formed the American Holistic Nurses Association. And over the years, my expertise became how to integrate the holistic model with traditional therapies. And now I feel privileged to be working with different groups in nursing and other colleagues, exploring how we get it to the next level of integration.

Dr. L: As a Nurse, what problems do you still see in the hospitals and do you see things changing?

BD: We need a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients, not by the bottom line and money. We are there to serve the patients not the various hospital departments. Unfortunately it has gotten very territorial. What I mean by that is that regardless of what the different departments are in the hospital, healthcare should belong to the patient.

But things are slowly changing. In many of our hospitals now we’re calling for a true dialogue and collaboration among different disciplines. This is very exciting, it goes beyond nursing.

Dr. L: Is the education of holistic nurses changing?

BD: Yes. It is changing and it’s just so thrilling because it is changing in a way I have believed in since the sixties. There is now a holistic curriculum that is well developed and focused. We have a frame of reference. We have identified the core values within holistic nursing. Holistic philosophy, theory, and ethics is the first core value. Holistic education and research is the second core value. The third core value is holistic self-care. If we don’t do self-care, we can’t do this work. And then other core values are holistic communication, therapeutic environment, and cultural diversity. The uniqueness of what is going on through holistic nursing is that we recognize that nurses have to take breaks, have to have time out. Patients are sicker than ever in the hospital; there is more work than ever that has to be done. And what we have is technology that has been very exciting, but that has also added another layer of complexity onto the system…What nurses are doing right now is really finding their voice. And because of this increased complexity in the system, there is a new value placed on what nurses do at the bedside.

Dr. L: How did you get interested in holistic or Integrative health care?

BD: Like many people, I had a health problem that had no Western Medical solution. I had a recurrent viral infection in my right eye from 1965 to 1975. At that time we didn’t have medications for it. Finally, I got to a place where I couldn’t see out of my right eye, but it was still some time before I was eligible for corneal transplant surgery. And even now, with the surgery, I still run a thirty percent rejection for the rest of my life. So prior to the transplant, I began to look at stress management strategies. I realized that I would have to integrate self-care for my own healing and create balance for myself. At the same time, I was seeking out ways for my patients to feel better. So it has been a true gift to my life to learn so many of these complementary and alternative therapies.

Dr. L: I know you are working on a new project, the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH). What is NIGH?

BD: The Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH) is a grassroots, nurse-inspired movement to increase global public awareness about the priority of human health. Our inclusive and collaborative initiative gives nurses a voice and to create new opportunities for them to discover possibilities for their unique contributions toward health and well-being for all.

We honor the legacy of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and other nurses, midwives and healthcare workers, past and present, who have shown by their example how personal actions can make a significant difference. We seek to engage the values and wisdom of millions of nurses and concerned citizens and to act as a catalyst for the transformation of individuals, communities and society for the achievement of a healthy world.

In cooperation with a growing list of collaborators, the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH) is developing the grassroots-to-global Nightingale Declaration Campaign (NDC) to establish worldwide commitment to the Nightingale Declaration for a Healthy World and to support two related proposed United Nations Resolutions:

  • 2010: International Year of the Nurse
  • 2111-2020: UN Decade for a Healthy World

We will be taking the above UN Resolution proposals with these signatures to the UN General Assembly in 2009 in hope of a designated UN year and decade.

We invite all to join us and sign the Nightingale Declaration at

Dr. L: What inspired you to create this initiative?

BD: In the 1990’s, I began to explore the life of Florence Nightingale, the philosophical founder of modern, secular nursing.
While writing and researching on the further relevance of Nightingale for today, I joined with Deva-Marie Beck, PhD, RN, to build a visionary team ready and able to share Nightingale’s phenomenal work with a global audience. While still completing our doctoral programs together in 2002, we realized there was a need to move beyond simply describing Nightingale’s panoramic life in books and articles. We decided to invite nurses and other concerned citizens to join us in building a grassroots-to-global network, able to strategically address the health needs of our time, at home and abroad. We knew that to fully understand how and what Nightingale accomplished in her time contemporary people would need an experience far beyond reading her personal history. Thus, we envisioned an innovative action project to follow in Nightingale’s footsteps, seeking to improve the health of humanity at local, regional, national and global levels.

Dr. L: How do you see 13 million nurses globally impacting world health?

BD: We seek to increase nurses’ capacities to see themselves as global citizens. This is very important as nurses and midwives deliver 80% of healthcare worldwide.

NIGH provides a setting for nurses at the grassroots to tell their stories and to speak about core issues of concern to them, including their regional challenges as well as global health challenges. Through sharing their stories authentically (21st Century Nightingales) we engage nurses with an awareness of what’s possible and empower them to action.  NIGH uses innovative Internet tools and focused communications strategies to connect nurses worldwide and effectively promote and enhance its mission. We will focus on the following themes on our Internet site as well as in global forums and articles starting in 2009. Our themes are as follows:

  1. Individual Health, Wellness, Renewal;
  2. Healthy Homes and Work Environments;
  3. Cross Cultural Understanding and Health Diplomacy;
  4. Environmental Determinants of Health
  5. Social Determinants of Health.

I would like to refer individuals for more information on my holistic nursing work and publications as well as my Theory of Integral Nursing on my website at

Dr. L: How do you keep in rhythm or in sync with your body rhythms?

BD: Keeping in synch with my body rhythms includes daily self-care with stretching, exercise, good nutrition and on most days a time for a 20-minute meditation. I also use relaxed breathing all day long. And there are many days where I work too long of a day and it catches up with me after a few days and I have to slow down the work pace. It seems there is always more work and things to do in a day than can be accomplished.

But being in sync with the body is about the process of healing; it is a lifelong journey. It’s the weaving together of the threads of our life. It is moving to a deeper level of touching our inner life and the being with not knowing. Healing involves opening what we have closed down, remembering what is or was once sacred to us, and honoring our connections with our self, others, and the Transcendent. For me, healing involves incorporating my personal healing rituals into my life each day.

There are 3 simple and yet very profound steps in a ritual of healing. The first one is to separate and to disengage from daily activities and enter into a different state of consciousness so that you recognize a part of yourself that is in need of healing. The second step is the transition period. This can take a few moments or much longer such as 10 or 20 minutes, to get into a quiet space within yourself – a completely different level than our busy, ordinary mind. This involves connecting with your inner self and an inner truth about your healing. In connecting in this way, we can remember how we have gotten through crisis before, and we can envision what heals us. The third step is the return. After spending quality time with our self or with another, we can return to the day’s activities and feel an inner peace that is special. This allows us to have more joy and meaning in our daily activities.

To me, generating self-healing rituals is the most effective way to manage my very busy life and listen to and to recognize my body rhythms. No one else can heal us, and each of us has to find our own way to create healing rituals to bring about that balance and connectedness. Healing rituals are different for each of us, and there are no formulas or rigid rules for generating them.

I have many healing rituals. Nature is one of the profound ways that helps me heal and to remember my spirit – a walk in the garden, sitting on a stone bench, or listening to the water flowing down the water rocks that we have all around our home. It is time to just be present, do nothing, look at the colors, sounds, textures, and feel the wind.