Submitted by Betsy Tyer

Tags: health mythology nursing nursing students rn student


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During my educational journey to obtain my bachelor’s degree in nursing I chose to take a mythology course as one of my electives. In all honesty I decided to take this course simply because I believed that this would be a nice break from all the rigorous nursing courses I had been taking. I never thought that as a professional registered nurse a class in mythology could add any additional skills to a profession that prides itself in evidence based practices and scientific facts.

As a child I experienced the wonders and excitement that mythological stories had brought me. I remember anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Easter bunny and Santa Claus as well as my mother telling me to place my teeth underneath the pillow so they would be whisked away in the night by the tooth fairy and replaced with a quarter or if I was lucky maybe even a dollar. Every Sunday my family would pile into the church pews to listen to stories about great floods, the burning bush, and the woman who was turned into a pillar of salt. Many of the myths that I learned as a child came from stories in the bible told to me by my Sunday school teacher but myths origins are rooted in many cultures.

The cultures that come to mind for many people when they think about myths are the Greek and Romans because of their many gods. As a child I visited my brother in Montana and was exposed to the many myths that the American Indians have passed down through the generations. I saw dancing, carvings, and other Indian artifacts done to relay the myths of this tremendous culture. The mythology course kicked in my critical thinking skills and I began to relate my new knowledge with the course I took in alternative medicine in which I gained an understanding of the oriental cultures which believe medicine is based on such things as yin, yang, and balance of fire, earth, metal, water, and wood.

When I sat down to write my first paper for my mythology class and I typed into the university library’s search engine nursing and myths I did not expect any articles to pop up. I was taken back when the list came up. In front of me were articles on topics such as does milk cause cancer, what’s love got to do with it, and losing weight the myths and facts. In the United States were always looking for the quick fix to our ever expanding waistlines and many of us have heard of diet myths such as foods which take more calories to digest than they contain and miraculous food combinations which melt away fat. If only these myths were true.

I began to realize how myths play a role in my patient’s lives and how this elective on mythologies has turned out to be more then just something fun to do. As a professional registered nurse I come into contact with a variety of patients from different cultures and backgrounds. The 2006 census estimated that 19.7% of the population in the United States speaks a different language other than English in their homes (Percent of people 5 years and over who speak a language other than English at home, 2006). The racial and ethnic composition of the United States is also rapidly changing. The nation’s Hispanic and Asian populations will triple over the next half-century making the United States a diverse population rich in various cultures and beliefs (The face of the population, 2004). Many of these cultures have myths that they use to treat and prevent diseases such as fertility stones, ritual dances, and laying on of hands. I have never thought to ask my patients if they have beliefs or customs that they use for medicinal purposes.

Taking the mythology course opened my eyes to the many ways myths have impacted not only my life but the lives of those I care for professionally. When I first decided to complete my bachelor’s degree in nursing I felt as if these electives were just a useless waste of time and a way for universities to make money. As I have grown during my educational journey I have come to realize how these electives added valuable information to my nursing profession by expanding my knowledge base, cultivating my critical thinking skills, and challenging my stagnated beliefs.