Writing a Personal Narrative Essay Outline

Nursing is a profession marked by unique experiences, challenges, and moments of profound realization. A personal narrative essay allows nursing students to reflect on these experiences, express their feelings, and share insights that have shaped their journey. Crafting a compelling narrative requires a great story and a structured approach. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide on creating an outline for a personal narrative essay tailored to nursing students.

Structure of a Personal Narrative Essay

In narrative writing, structure is indispensable in conveying your message effectively. Especially for nursing students, where the content has professional implications, a structured narrative can guide the reader through the journey while conveying key insights.


1. Hook or Attention-Grabber

A well-crafted essay hook can be a thought-provoking question, a surprising fact or statistic, an anecdote, a quote from a relevant figure, or a vivid description. The key is to choose something that is not only interesting but also relevant to the main theme or argument of your essay. The purpose of the hook is to pique curiosity and encourage the reader to continue, making it an essential tool for effective writing.

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The beginning of your essay must immediately captivate your audience. Imagine the array of emotions you felt in a specific nursing situation. Can you distill that into a single sentence or anecdote?  Example: “Under the sterile white lights of the hospital room, with machines humming in the background, I held the hand of a patient who taught me the true meaning of resilience.”

2. Setting the Context

Every story thrives on context. It’s crucial to paint a picture of where and when your narrative occurred and what led you to that moment. Maybe it was during a challenging clinical rotation or the final years of your rigorous training. Setting this context allows the reader to step into your shoes.

3. Thesis Statement

This is the anchor of your essay, the primary message or lesson you want your readers to take away. It’s the heart of your story, which every other part of your narrative will revolve around. For instance, “In the hushed moments between life and death, I learned that nursing isn’t just about medication and procedures, but about understanding the human spirit.”


The body of a personal narrative essay is where readers will become truly engrossed in your experiences and lessons learned. Let’s delve deeper into how nursing students can structure and detail each paragraph effectively.

Paragraph 1: Initial Perception and Expectations

Starting your narrative, it’s essential to set the tone. At this point, you’re discussing your entry into the situation. Maybe you were an enthusiastic beginner, eager to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios. Alternatively, perhaps you felt trepidation.

Did you hold stereotypes or biases? Maybe you believed some patients would be difficult or that certain medical procedures were straightforward. Delving deep into these initial beliefs and perceptions will provide a foundation for how these were challenged or reaffirmed as your story progressed.

Paragraph 2: Setting the Scene

Context is everything in a narrative. Begin by introducing the significant players in your story. For example, was there a particular patient whose resilience inspired you? Or maybe a senior nurse whose guidance became invaluable?

Paint a vivid picture of the setting. If in a hospital, were there constant sirens in the background, or was it a day with an unusual calmness, where the ticking of the wall clock became eerily noticeable?

Paragraph 3: The Challenge or Conflict

Every story has its antagonist, and in personal narratives, this antagonist often comes in the form of challenges. As a nursing student, these could range from the tangible to the emotional. Maybe you were presented with a patient whose symptoms you couldn’t decipher.

Or perhaps you faced a moral dilemma, torn between following hospital protocols and wanting to give in to a patient’s personal request. Here, it’s vital to lay bare your emotions. Were there moments of doubt, guilt, or a deep yearning to do more?

Paragraph 4: Action and Reflection

After introducing the challenge, it’s time to dive into your reaction. This paragraph is crucial as it doesn’t just reveal your actions but your thought processes as well. Did you consult medical journals, seek advice from a mentor, or maybe rely on your intuition?

The reflection part is equally essential. It’s not about the challenge itself but how it made you feel and think and its broader implications on your nursing perspective.

Paragraph 5: The Climax

All the buildup leads to this moment. Maybe it was when you finally diagnosed a patient after hours of research. Or perhaps it was a heartfelt conversation with a patient’s family member, thanking you for your empathy and dedication. 

Whatever it was, the climax signifies the peak of your emotions and actions. Here, you should also highlight any support you received. Remember, nursing is often a collective effort, and recognizing the roles of others can add depth to your narrative.

Paragraph 6: The Resolution

Every challenge, every action, and every climax leads to some form of resolution. This doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘happy ending’. Instead, it’s about closure. Perhaps you realized the limitations of medical interventions and the importance of emotional support.

Or maybe, despite your best efforts, a patient’s health deteriorated, teaching you about the unpredictability of life and the need for resilience in nursing.

Concluding this segment, reflect on the transformative power of these experiences. How have they molded you? What lessons will you carry forward? Remember, the goal of your narrative isn’t just to tell a story but to convey growth, learning, and the undying spirit of nursing.


The conclusion of a personal narrative essay mirrors the introduction, reflecting the journey you’ve taken the reader through and providing a closure that resonates long after the last word is read. For nursing students, whose narratives often revolve around poignant experiences and invaluable lessons, concluding effectively becomes even more crucial. 

Revisiting the Thesis

The core of your narrative, the thesis, is the anchor that holds your entire essay together. As you conclude, it’s essential to revisit this statement to remind the reader and evaluate its evolution. Has the unfolding of your story affirmed your initial assertion, or has the journey provided nuances that make you see things differently?

For instance, if your thesis centered on the significance of empathy in nursing, reflect on the instances in your narrative that underscored its importance. However, add moments that might have added layers to your understanding, like realizing that sometimes professional detachment is necessary for both the nurse and the patient.

Personal and Professional Growth

This section is the heart of your conclusion. It ties together all your experiences, challenges, victories, and moments of introspection. What facets of your personality were tested or revealed? Perhaps the challenges you faced made you more resilient, more patient, or more attuned to the emotional needs of others.

From a professional standpoint, discuss how the events influenced your view of nursing. Did they reaffirm your passion, teaching you the significance of your role? Or did they bring to light the myriad challenges of the profession, making you more prepared for future endeavors?

Closing Thoughts

As you round off your essay, providing the reader with a lasting impression is crucial. It’s the final note, the lingering melody. Reflect on the broader implications of your narrative. How will the lessons learned shape your future interactions with patients, colleagues, or mentors?

Perhaps the experience made you more resolute in your decision to specialize in a particular nursing field. Or maybe it instilled a desire to advocate for patient rights or to mentor future nurses, ensuring they’re better prepared for the challenges ahead.

You might also wish to hint at the continuous nature of learning in nursing. Despite the culmination of this particular narrative, every day brings new experiences, challenges, and lessons. End with a statement or sentiment that encapsulates this journey, making your narrative not just a recounting of the past but a beacon for the future.

Final Thoughts on Writing Personal Narrative Essay Outlines

A personal narrative essay for nursing students is more than a recollection of events; it’s a personal and professional growth journey. Through such narratives, nursing students can reflect on their experiences, understand their reactions, and gain insights that will serve them throughout their careers.

This outline serves as a structured pathway to convert those raw emotions and experiences into a cohesive, impactful narrative that resonates with readers and offers a window into the profound world of nursing.

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