Cortney Davis: Exploring the Place Where Nursing and Poetry Meet


For Cortney Davis, becoming a nurse was not a choice made by deliberate design but one spurred by practical necessity.  As a young mother with financial problems, Davis needed an evening job that could work around her childcare schedule.  Accepting a position as a nurses’ aid at the hospital that was within walking distance of her apartment was mere logic.  The fact that she loved the work and that the hospital suited her was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.  Davis’ entrée into nursing marked the beginning of her fascination with the relationship between care-giver and care-receiver. 

She quickly progressed from nurse’s aid to surgical technician to registered nurse via night classes at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut.  In 1970, encouraged by her colleagues, Davis entered Cornell University to pursue the newly created degree of Nurse Practitioner.  Over the course of her early nursing years, Davis felt increasingly compelled to record the enormity of what she saw, heard, and felt in the hospital.  By writing with compassion and honesty about the nature of her nursing work she made a name for herself in the relatively new field of Humanities in Medicine.  A pioneer in a literary genre dominated by physicians like Richard Selzer and Abraham Verghese, Cortney Davis’ prose and poetry offered a distinctly nurse-oriented perspective. 

Davis states on her author website ( that, “Like other nurses and doctors who write, I feel called upon to translate and pass on in some measure the extraordinary lessons I learn from my patients’ lives.”  She adds, “A nurse’s story is different from a doctor’s story. Although we both inhabit the strange universe of illness, death, and healing, we bring to that world different skills and points of view. I write from the nurse’s vantage point: we accompany patients as they go from illness to recovery; we walk with patients as they journey through death’s door.”

A resident of Redding, Connecticut, Davis splits her time between working as a clinician at a university clinic and the more solitary endeavor of writing about that work.  Intrigued by the interplay between the two seemingly disparate occupations, Davis has discovered that her commitment to one enhances her performance in the other.  Not only are her creative impulses dependent upon her nursing practice, but the process of writing improves her skills as a women’s health nurse practitioner.  Her attention to language, detail, intonation, and introspection, the skills which underlie all good story-telling, sharpen and inform her interactions with patients.  These subtleties attune her to the unsaid.  Davis is a better writer because she is a nurse and a better nurse because she writes.    

The need to interpret her experiences with patients, to tease out what they mean for her as a friend, a mother, a poet, and a caregiver continue to inspire the creation of an ever-expanding body of work.  To date, Davis has authored four books of poetry, one nonfiction book entitled I Knew A Woman:  Four Women Patients and their Female Caregiver, and one booklet discussing her ethical struggle with the issue of abortion.  She has also edited two publications of prose and poetry by nurses.

Within the nursing community, a literary voice that tells unique nursing stories, relates to particular nursing struggles, and grieves with unspoken nursing losses is invaluable.  Cortney Davis reminds nurses that we are not alone with the transformative emotions generated by our work.

Copyright 2008- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Alison Palmer

    Editorial Staff:
    Alison Palmer
    Laura Fitzgerald
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Creative Oversight:

    Design Director:
    Daria Dillard

    Design Firm:
    Agency San Francisco
    San Francisco, California

    Alison Palmer
    Laura Fitzgerald
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

Leave a Comment

Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated. Please do not use a spam keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for your comments!

*This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.