Writing a Descriptive Essay: A Comprehensive Guide with Advice

Nursing is a noble yet demanding profession that involves long hours, high stakes situations, and deep connections with patients. Writing a descriptive nursing essay offers nurses an opportunity to thoughtfully reflect on their daily experiences and convey the realities of this vital career. 

What is a Descriptive Nursing Essay? 

A descriptive essay uses descriptive language to fully illuminate a person, place, object, experience, or emotion for the reader. It incorporates vivid sensory details relating to sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste to portray the essay topic as multi-dimensional. A well-written descriptive essay will captivate the reader’s imagination, making them feel like they’re truly experiencing the subject firsthand.

The key to writing an engaging, descriptive essay is selecting a topic with vivid and unique qualities worth describing in nuanced detail. Common subjects include places, people, memories, events, activities, and objects with significance to the writer. 

The essay then mines the topic for sensory details and descriptions that reflect its essence. Although descriptive essays forego plot and chronology in favor of rendering a highly descriptive impression of the subject, the essay should still orient readers, provide background context, and convey a dominant theme or feeling about the depicted topic.

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Two Classic Approaches to the Descriptive Essay

There are two common approaches to descriptive nursing essays: 

  • Narrative Approach
  • Reflective Approach

Narrative Approach

  • The narrative approach to descriptive nursing essays involves telling a story or recounting a specific clinical experience in a chronological order.
  • Start by providing a clear and concise introduction that sets the stage for the story you are about to tell. This could include information about the patient, the clinical setting, and the purpose of the experience.
  • Describe the events, actions, and interactions in a clear and logical sequence. Use strong and sensory language to help the reader visualize the situation.
  • Include dialogue and direct quotes from relevant individuals involved in the experience, such as patients, family members, or healthcare professionals.
  • Conclude the narrative by summarizing the key takeaways or lessons learned from the experience. Reflect on the impact it had on your nursing practice or personal growth.

Reflective Approach

  • The reflective approach focuses on personal growth and self-examination. It requires you to reflect on a nursing experience and analyze its impact on your practice, beliefs, and development as a nurse.
  • Begin with an introduction that introduces the clinical situation or experience you will be reflecting upon. Provide some context and background information.
  • Describe the experience and your feelings, thoughts, and reactions during the situation. Be honest and introspective about your initial expectations and emotions.
  • Analyze the experience by discussing what went well, what could have been done differently, and what you have learned from it. Use nursing theories or frameworks to support your analysis.
  • Reflect on how this experience has influenced your nursing practice, your understanding of patient care, and your personal growth as a healthcare provider.
  • Conclude by summarizing the key insights gained from the reflection and how you plan to apply these insights in future nursing practice.

Features of Descriptive Essay

Clear and Concise Introduction

  • Begin with a clear and concise essay introduction that covers the topic or situation you will be describing.
  • Provide some context and background information to help the reader understand the relevance and importance of the subject matter.

Detailed Description

  • The heart of a descriptive nursing essay lies in its ability to paint a clear and detailed picture for the reader.
  • Use descriptive language to convey the physical setting, people involved, and any relevant objects or equipment. Engage the reader’s senses by describing what you saw, heard, smelled, and felt during the experience.
  • Provide specific details about the patient, their medical condition, and the nursing care they received.

Objective Observation

  • Maintain objectivity in your observations. Present the facts and details accurately without inserting personal opinions or judgments.
  • Use precise terminology and medical terminology when describing clinical aspects.

Organized Structure

  • Organize your essay in a logical and structured manner. Consider using a chronological or thematic order depending on the nature of the description.
  • Use paragraphs to break down your description into manageable sections, each focusing on a specific aspect or subtopic.

Relevance and Significance

  • Throughout the essay body, highlight the relevance and significance of the described experience or situation to nursing practice and patient care.
  • Explain how the experience relates to broader nursing concepts, such as patient-centered care, evidence-based practice, or ethical considerations.

Reflection (Optional)

  • Depending on the assignment or your objectives, you may include a reflective component in your descriptive nursing essay.
  • Reflect on what you learned from the experience, how it impacted your nursing practice, and any personal or professional growth that resulted from it.

Use of Evidence

Support your descriptions with evidence and references. Cite relevant nursing literature, research, or guidelines to substantiate your claims and observations.

Professionalism and Ethical Considerations

  • Maintain patient confidentiality and adhere to ethical standards when describing patient encounters or experiences.
  • Demonstrate professionalism by respecting privacy and dignity in your descriptions.


  • Summarize the main points in your essay conclusion.
  • Reiterate the significance of the experience and its implications for nursing practice.

Proofreading and Editing

Carefully proofread and edit your essay to eliminate grammatical errors, typos, and inconsistencies in writing.

Descriptive Nursing Essay Format

A descriptive essay generally follows a standard essay outline with the following:

  • Introduction: Engaging hook and thesis statement conveying the focus of descriptions. Provides context.
  • Body Paragraphs: Elaborate on key descriptions that support the central theme and impressions of the subject.
  • Conclusion: Summarize the main theme and why the details described capture the topic’s essence.

How to Start a Descriptive Nursing Essay?

The introduction should immediately immerse the reader in the topic with vivid sensory details while hinting at the central theme. Ways to write an engaging intro:

  • Create a strong scene depicting a common but meaningful experience for a nurse, like witnessing a patient take their first post-surgery steps or seeing a terminally ill patient laugh with their family. Zoom in on sensory and emotional details.
  • Begin with the nurse preparing for their shift – describe the organized routine of donning scrubs, reviewing charts, and centering oneself emotionally before entering the chaotic hospital floor.
  • Start mid-action with a nurse’s swift response in an emergency situation that immediately shows their skills and critical thinking. Slow down the scene after the hook.
  • Open with insightful commentary on the immense responsibility and privilege of nursing – holding patients’ lives in your hands. Pose a thoughtful question.
  • Describe entering the crowded, noisy hospital cafeteria after a long shift – the relief of sitting down, pungent smells of coffee and lunch meat, vacant stare of exhaustion. Set the mood.
  • Contrast the nervous anticipation of starting nursing school with the confidence and expertise gained from real-world experience. Bookend the opening and conclusion.
  • Detail the Suspended moment of joy after a successful surgery when the patient opens their eyes or thanks the nurse for their care.
  • Begin with metaphorical language like “A nurse’s tools are words of comfort and hands that heal.

Descriptive Essay Topics On Writing About A Person

People make rich descriptive essay subjects because of their multifaceted personalities. Potential topics:

  • Physical appearance: distinctive features, mannerisms, style
  • Personality: quirks, humor, values, passions, habits
  • Relationships: how you interact with experiences together
  • Achievements: skills, talents, accomplishments

Descriptive Nursing Essay Topics About an Event

Recounting events expressively can make for engaging descriptive essays. Consider:

  • A Birth in the Labor and Delivery Unit
  • A Code Blue Emergency
  • A Day in the Life of an ICU Nurse
  • Caring for a Pediatric Patient with a Chronic Illness
  • A Medical Mission Trip
  • A Patient’s Journey Through Surgery
  • Responding to a Traumatic Injury
  • A Day in the Life of a School Nurse
  • A Nursing Student First Clinical Experience
  • Nursing Care During a Natural Disaster
  • A Palliative Care Experience
  • Caring for Patients with COVID-19

Descriptive Essay Topics About a Place

Places often have unique sensory dimensions worth describing. Potential topics:

  • The Hospital Ward During Night Shift
  • A Nursing Simulation Lab
  • A Long-Term Care Facility
  • A Nursing School Skills Lab
  • A Mental Health Facility

How to Write a Nursing Descriptive Essay?

Here are tips for writing a high-quality, evocative, descriptive essay:

  • Choose a specific experience or environment to focus your essay on, such as your first clinical rotation, a hectic emergency room, or a pediatric unit. Narrow your focus to provide vivid details.
  • Appeal to all five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste – to make your description immersive. Describe the hustle and noise of a busy ward, the stench of bodily fluids, the feel of a patient’s thin skin, etc.
  • Use figurative language like metaphors, similes, and personification to add depth to your descriptions. For example, “The IV tubes resembled tangled spaghetti dripping fluid into her bruised veins.”
  • Employ emotive language to convey mood and atmosphere. Is the environment chaotic, somber, sterile, or comforting? Use words that capture the tone.
  • Use dialogue and inner monologue to add insight into your impressions, thoughts, and feelings during the experience. This helps make the essay personal.
  • Organize chronologically to walk readers step-by-step through a typical shift or experience in a unit or department.
  • Provide background on why this experience stood out as impactful or meaningful in your nursing field. Reflect on what you learned.
  • Proofread carefully to fix any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors which could distract from your descriptions.

Descriptive Nursing Essay Examples

Here is an essay example excerpt describing a nurse’s experiences in a hospital:

“As I entered the bustling ICU, the rhythmic beeps and whirs of machinery filled my ears. Moving from room to room, I carefully reviewed each patient’s chart, noting vital signs and updates from the previous shift. Some patients slept fitfully, tossing beneath thin hospital sheets. Others gazed up at me with fear or relief in their eyes as I adjusted IV drips or checked wound dressings.

During my rounds, I connected with each patient, however briefly, holding a trembling hand or exchanging a gentle smile. In moments of crisis, I worked with calm determination, drawing blood, administering CPR, or assisting doctors with urgent procedures. It was often an emotional rollercoaster, sharing in my patients’ pain, hope, and grief.

At the end of my long shift, I felt exhausted but fulfilled. Though the work was demanding, putting my training and skills into action to help those in need brought me profound satisfaction.”

Final Thoughts On Writing Descriptive Nursing Essays

Descriptive essays allow readers to immerse themselves in a subject by employing evocative sensory details, precisely crafted imagery, and artful, figurative language.

By tapping into multiple senses like sight, sound, smell, and touch, they paint a multidimensional portrait in the reader’s mind, replacing telling with showing. Whether a personal narrative or an objective depiction, descriptive essays use crisp, carefully selected language to render subjects in resplendent detail vividly.

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