How to Write a Nursing Reflective Essay (Guide for Nurse Students)

Written by Brandon L.
July 27, 202313 min read

If you are a nursing or medicine student, you are aware that you will come across or have already come across assignments requiring you to write a nursing reflection essay. At first, such a task always appears challenging, but given the understanding of the steps, things flat out, and you can write reflective essays and get better grades.

Reflective practice is highly encouraged in nursing. Reflection entails making sense of situations, events, actions, and phenomena in the workplace.

As a nursing student, you will be asked to write a reflective essay on your clinical placement, practicum, shadowing experience, shadow health DCE activities, personal nursing philosophy, why you want to become a nurse, nursing program, ethical dilemma, knowledge, skills, and abilities, systems, and processes.

The easiest way to complete the reflective essay assignment is by first determining what reflective writing entails, its significance, its steps, and some of the best tips that form the core of this ultimate guide.

Basics of Reflective Writing in Nursing

Reflective writing is an analytical writing practice where the writer describes a real or imaginary event, scene, phenomenon, occurrence, or memory, including their takeaway. It entails the critical analysis of an experience, including recording how it has impacted you and what you intend to do with the new knowledge or how to act when such an occurrence recurs.

As you document the encounter, you can use first-person pronouns and write subjectively and objectively. This means that you can decide to either use personal experiences alone or support these experiences using citations from scholarly sources.

When writing a reflective essay in nursing, you must recount the events and give critical detail of how the events shaped your knowledge acquisition. Reflection helps nursing students develop skills in self-directed learning, which is directly associated with high motivation and improved quality of care.

In most cases, reflection occurs on what went well and what went wrong. It could be a successful operation, a thank you note from a patient, a patient who regained their health faster, or a new nursing care plan that worked. However, it can also be about adverse events such as death, postoperative complications, death of an infant at birth, dissatisfied patient, medical error, or a failed procedure.

As a nursing student, when you learn to reflect on situations, you grow to become a professional nurse who diligently does their noble duty.

When writing a reflective essay, you begin by setting the scene (explaining what, where, how, and who-the situation), detailing how you felt (emotional state), why it happened (making sense of the situation), critical review and development of insights, a note on what was learned, and strategies to address future recurrence.

As you will notice later, these reflective stages are structured into different reflective models and frameworks that we will explore in-depth. So, with the understanding of what comprises reflective writing and its importance in nursing, let's now get solid on the structure.

Related Reading:

Structure of a Reflective Essay in Nursing

A reflective essay is an analytical writing piece describing and evaluating encounters or experiences. When asked to write one, you should know that an excellent reflective essay consists of different parts, just like a typical academic essay. It comprises the cover or title page, introduction, body paragraphs, conclusions, and a references page.

Title Page

The title page contains information about the assignment. If you are writing the reflective essay in APA, include these on the title page:

When writing in Harvard format, the title or the cover page will consist of the following:


The introduction begins with an attention grabber or a hook sentence to attract readers' attention. It should then explain the essay's purpose and signpost the ideas that will come later in the essay. The introduction also has a thesis statement at the end of the paragraph- the last sentence. The thesis is concise, clear, and relatable and should reflect your position.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs of a reflective essay can be three or more, depending on the length of the essay. Essentially, the body comprises 80% of the total word count.

The first paragraph is where you describe the situation, including the events, why they occurred, how they occurred, and those involved.

The second paragraph entails your personal feelings or reaction to the situation and how it made you feel.

The third paragraph can include making sense of the situation. You have to think about why things happened the way they did. You should also critically review and develop insights based on the situation. Finally, think of the factors that could have influenced the situation.

The next paragraph should explain how the event or situation will change your practice, approach, decisions, perspective, or perception. This is where you evaluate the experience by detailing the knowledge and skills you took from the experience.

The last body paragraph should entail a critical reflection on the learning opportunities. First, you need to describe the situation and what it made you learn. Next, elaborate on how you intend to make yourself better poised to address such situations.


After everything else falls into place, you need to summarize the information you presented in the essay. Then, finally, restate your thesis and have a call to action to bring a sense of closure to your readers.

Steps for Writing a Nursing Reflection Essay � The Guide

When assigned to write a reflective essay for your nursing class, here are the surefire steps to get you to success.

Read the instructions

The first step after receiving an assignment is to begin reading the instructions. as you read, take note of what your instructor or professor expects in the paper you will submit for marking.

Reading instructions helps you to get informed on the scope of the paper, word count, number of references and pages, and the formatting style to use.

Besides you also get to plan your paper with the deadline highlighted in the instructions.


You need to get a conducive environment where you can start writing. The first step of writing is to brainstorm about situations that occurred during your clinical hours when you were shadowing a Nurse Practitioner or one that you have read about. Assess whether the situation or scenario you have thought, encountered, or chosen can help you write a reflective essay that meets the requirements.

Research and Plan

After choosing a scenario, the next step is researching the best reflective model. You can use your class text, the instructions, the college library, course readings, and online nursing journals to get articles and resources with information about specific reflective models. Select the best reflective model and take notes on the steps it entails. As you research, write down notes on how to address your paper based on the framework or model of reflection you have selected. Additionally, research nursing journal articles with information you can use when critically analyzing a situation. Plan how you will handle the paper as well. For instance, as you research, develop a thesis statement that grounds your entire paper, then draft an outline on how to develop the thesis.

Write an Outline

Outlining is a crucial aspect of writing. It helps you envision how you will meet the objective of writing a reflective essay. as an essential part of the essay writing process, outlining helps create a good flow of ideas and can come in handy in helping you overcome writer's block. Your outline should comprise of:

With the outline done, you should take a break and resume writing your first draft of the nursing reflection essay. Writing with an outline helps avoid mistakes and also to write faster.

Proofread, Edit, and Polish

After doing your first draft, take a break to relax and get off the writing mood � it helps you to become objective. You can then resume reading out loud to yourself, make necessary tweaks, and ensure that every part you include meets the rubric requirements. Edit for grammar, punctuation, tenses, voice, spelling, and use of language. You should also proofread the essay to ensure that you have adhered to the style, organization, and presentation requirements. Ensure that all the in-text citations are accounted for in the reference list and are up-to-date. You are good to go when you have an essay that meets all the instructions. Finally, you can submit the paper for grading.

Writing is not everyone's cup of tea. For that reason, you can hire a nursing reflection essay writer from our website to assist you in crafting a top-grade paper. In addition, we have nursing writers whose forte is writing various nursing papers.

Reflective Models and Tools in Nursing

As you undertake your nursing studies, you must reflect on your experiences, encounters, and practice in the workplace or the entire course. And for this, you will be required to use various reflective models. Models of reflection help you to systematically organize and critically reflect on your practice as a nursing student and are meant to guide your decision-making process. In addition, you will find them helpful in your personal and professional life as a nurse practitioner. Below we explore some of the most common reflective models in this guide to help you understand the different approaches to writing reflection essays. In addition, we offer such services if you need professional assistance writing your reflective essay. Check out our services section. But first, get solid with the specific reflective model, framework, or tool to adopt for your nursing reflective essay.

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

The Gibbs' reflective cycle was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to structure learning from experiences. Gibb's model is a cyclic process that allows a person to examine their experiences repeatedly to learn and plan from what went right and wrong.

The famous cyclical model of reflection has six stages that explore an experience: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion, and action plan. Let's look at each separately in brief.

  1. Here, you should describe what happened without judging or concluding anything. When undertaking this step, you need to ask yourself:
    • What happened?
    • When and where did it happen?
    • Who was present?
    • What did you and the other people do?
    • What was the outcome of the situation?
    • Why were you there?
    • What did you want to happen?
  2. This step entails describing your reactions and emotions. Here are some guiding questions for this step:
    • What were you feeling during the situation?
    • What were you feeling before and after the situation?
    • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
    • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
    • What were you thinking during the situation?
    • What do you think about the situation now?
  3. Here, you weigh in or make value judgments on what was good or bad about the experience. Here are some questions to guide you through this step:
    • What were you feeling during the situation?
    • What were you feeling before and after the situation?
    • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
    • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
    • What were you thinking during the situation?
    • What do you think about the situation now?
  4. Here, you have to analyze the situation to determine if there were similarities or differences in the experience. Then, you will make sense of the situation. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you draft this section:
    • What were you feeling during the situation?
    • What were you feeling before and after the situation?
    • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
    • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
    • What were you thinking during the situation?
    • What do you think about the situation now?
  5. Here, you detail the conclusions you can draw from the experience and your analysis. Ensure to include the specific conclusions you can draw about the unique personal encounter or way of working. Explain what you could have done differently and why. Ask yourself:
    • What were you feeling during the situation?
    • What were you feeling before and after the situation?
    • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
    • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
    • What were you thinking during the situation?
    • What do you think about the situation now?
  6. Action Plan. In this section of your essay, you must explain the steps you will take based on what you have learned. You should explain how you will approach the situation differently and provide a rationale. Questions to ask yourself:
    • What were you feeling during the situation?
    • What were you feeling before and after the situation?
    • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
    • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
    • What were you thinking during the situation?
    • What do you think about the situation now?

Dewey's Reflective Thinking Model

According to John Dewey, reflective thinking is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge of the grounds that support that knowledge and further conclusions to which the knowledge leads. He believed that through active, reflective thinking, learners can assess what they know, what they need to know, and how to bridge the knowledge gap.

Dewey's reflective thinking model has been a foundation for many models that are used today. Below are the steps for reflective thinking as per the model:

  1. Identifying and defining the problem
  2. Analyzing the problem. You investigate the issue in-depth.
  3. Determining the criteria. Come up with criteria to address the issues.
  4. Brainstorming on possible solutions. Evaluating the potential solutions to solve the problem.
  5. Organizing ideas. Selecting the best solution or a combination of solutions.
  6. Accepting the solution. Testing, evaluating, and implementing the solution.

Kolb reflective Model

David Kolb introduced the four-step Kolb's learning cycle, an approach to reflection.

It is slightly different because it sites reflection as part of a wider set of processes where a learner (nurse student, nurse educator, nurse leader, or nurse practitioner) is on a journey of discovery to understand their working processes as they undertake different stages of engagement with events, occurrences, or training sessions. It is an experiential model of reflection that assigns higher value to the role of experience in learning.

Kolb's cycle has four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.

  1. Concrete experience. A person encounters a concrete experience, which is the basis of reflection. Therefore, you must describe the situation or experience when using this model. You can also describe a representation of existing experience given new concepts.
  2. Reflective observation. Here you critically weigh in on the new experience given your knowledge or existing knowledge. You have to spot the inconsistencies between experience and understanding.
  3. Abstract conceptualization. Here, you come up with a new idea or modification of an existing abstract concept. You will share what you have learned from the experience. You generate ideas, steps, behaviors, or approaches to address the situation or experience.
  4. Active Experimentation. You apply the new ideas and concepts to the world around you to see what changes occur. You test and experiment on the applicability of the new knowledge, steps, policies, behavior, or approaches.

Atkins and Murphy's Model of Reflection

Atkins and Murphy's reflection model was developed in 1993 specifically for nursing practice. The model is based on the premise that nurses face various challenging situations. Further, the model is based on the idea that people find it challenging to think about their uncomfortable experiences but can reflect on such events and find insights when faced with similar situations in the future. Finally, it is also a circular model that has 5 stages:

  1. In this step, a person gains knowledge or awareness about the triggers that have caused them discomfort. The step entails identifying one's thoughts and emotions that have resulted from the experience. You have to open up and express yourself to become vulnerable to identify the discomforts. When you analyze your personal feelings and thoughts, you can make improvements. At this stage, ask yourself:
    • What happened?
    • What had an effect on your emotions?
    • What were you thinking?
    • What were your emotions after the situation occurred?
    • What are you thinking now when you look back on the situation?
  2. Describe the situation. In the second step, you then describe the situation. Critically describe the setting, the events, and the entire situation. You can use these questions to guide you:
    • What was the event?
    • Where did it occur?
    • When did it occur?
    • What was your involvement during the event?
    • What did other people do?
    • What were the key observations you made?
  3. Analyze feelings and knowledge. In the third step of the Atkins and Murphy model, you analyze your assumptions. Next, you must assess your knowledge as an active reflective practice participant. Record your mindset, perspective, or attitudes before the event transpired. You also have to explore the alternatives, where you explain what you would have done differently given the circumstance. To do this step better, ask yourself:
    • What did you know already about the situation?
    • What were your assumptions or beliefs about the situation?
    • How did the reality reflect your assumptions?
    • What were the differences?
    • How would you react if something else happened?
    • In what types of scenarios would the discomfort not occur?
  4. Evaluate the relevance of knowledge. This step entails a personal assessment of how the knowledge of the previous step is relevant in explaining the problem. First, you must assess how the problem could be solved or averted. Next, you should identify different scenarios and potential behavior that should be adopted in similar situations. Ask yourself:
    • How does it help to explain the situation?
    • How did analyzing the different scenarios influence your thoughts?
    • How complete was your use of knowledge?
    • How can knowledge be useful next time?
  5. Identify any learning. The model assumes you have identified learning based on the last four steps. In this step, you integrate elements such as emotions, situations, assumptions, lessons learned, and knowledge gained. Ask yourself:
    • What have you learned?
    • How can you apply what you have learned to future situations?

CARL Framework for Reflection

You can write your reflective essay using the CARL framework for reflection, which entails four steps:

  1. Describe the contextualize the experience so that your readers understand where it took place and what occurred.
  2. Explaining the actions that you took when the issue occurred.
  3. Detailing what your actions led to. What happened after you took some action? What went right, and what went wrong?
  4. Identifying and explaining the experience and knowledge you have gained from experience. How will you apply the lessons learned in the future? Is the information valuable in your future practice? How and why?

The 5R Framework for Reflection

You can also select the 5R framework when writing your nursing reflection essay. The steps entail five stages that address each aspect of your reflective process. When you systematically go through the stages, you can reflect on an experience or encounter and report the knowledge gained.

  1. Here you describe the scenario or situation.
  2. Record your insights on the situation. You can ask yourself:
  1. In this step, you must relate your perceptions of the situation to your professional and personal experiences. Record your perspectives and point of view of the experience. Finalize by evaluating whether you must pursue professional development to gain knowledge to address the situation.
  2. In this step, you have to relate to someone else's point of view and how it affects how you react to the situation. Also, check the policies, steps, and guidelines that support your approach and consider the different approaches you could have used. Finally, reflect on how you understand the issue and if other points of view would suffice.
  3. Weigh in on what you learned, the knowledge you gained, and how it will affect your future practice.

Driscoll Reflective Model

The Driscoll model of reflection entails three questions whose answers drive the reflective process in nursing. The questions are:

These three stem questions are connected to stages of experience learning cycles and have trigger questions that one answers to complete the reflection cycle. The model was developed by John Driscoll in 1994, 2000, and 2007. Answering the three questions enables an individual to analyze experiences and learn from them.

In Step 1 (What?), you must recall and objectively describe what happened in plain and simple terms. You don't have to engage in any criticism yet. Next, you provide the context of the event or experience. The trigger questions for this step include:

In Step 2 (So What?), you need to look for patterns of meaningful moments. Here, you undertake a structured reflection. Some of the guiding questions for the second step include:

In Step 3 (now what?), you need to complete your structured reflection by noting what you have learned and how that will help you in future and in other contexts. You must demonstrate knowledge transfer.

Some of the questions to trigger this step include:

This reflective framework is straightforward. You can use it to reflect on your leadership experiences, ethics class, MSN, BSN, DNP program, NCLEX examination, etc.

Schon Reflective Model

Another critical framework for reflexive practice in nursing is the Sch�n reflective model. The model was developed by Donald Sch�n, explaining how professionals can solve problems through reflection in action and reflection on action.

Reflecting in action means experiencing, thinking on your feet, thinking of what to do next, and acting straight away.

On the other hand, reflecting on action means thinking about something that has happened, thinking of what you would do differently next time it happens, and taking your time.

So, the model entails reflection during and after the event or experience. For example, if you are in a class, you might notice that you are distracted by thoughts of a weekend camping trip. Although you want to get the most out of the class session, you can only do so by finding a way to focus. You finally decide to take notes as your instructor teaches. This entire process is a reflection in action.

After the lecture, you notice that you cannot remember what was covered, so the most appropriate thing you do is to find the topic in advance, write questions you need answers and clarifications on, make notes during the lecture to maintain focus, arrange for a consultative meeting with the lecturer and talk to your peers about what was taught to help you form your opinions. You then file the notes and handouts. The second step is reflecting on the action.

Schon believes that professionals must think about what they are doing while at it, stressing that leaders should use their past experiences to address new conditions or scenarios.

Rolfe Reflective Model

Rolfe's reflective cycle is much similar to the Driscoll model of reflection. It is also based on 3 questions: what? So what? Now what?

The first step entails describing the event and defining your self-awareness of the issue. The second step of the Rolfe cycle analyzes the situation and evaluates the circumstances or issues being addressed. Finally, the last step entails a comprehensive synthesis of information and insights from the two steps so that you acknowledge learning and knowledge transfer in readiness for future occurrences of the same event.

Find out more about Rolfe's reflective model; an example includes (link to external website)

Choosing the suitable Reflective Model or Framework

As you can see above, many reflective models for your reflective essay are used. We have not exhaustively listed and expounded on all of them. Other reflective models and frameworks you can also consider when writing a reflective essay in nursing include:

Note that most nursing instructors will often suggest the models they prefer for you to use in your essay. For example, in most nursing reflective essays. Whichever the case, there is readily available information expanding on each model to make it easier for you to write a reflection essay on a specific aspect of nursing education or practice. Read the assignment rubric and instructions to understand the specific model. If it is unclear, ask for clarification from your instructor early enough.

Tips for Writing a Good Nursing Reflective Essay

Related Readings:

Waste 5 Hours

Or Spend $23?

only $23 2 pages

NurseMyGrades is being relied upon by thousands of students worldwide to ace their nursing studies. We offer high quality sample papers that help students in their revision as well as helping them remain abreast of what is expected of them.

Get Help

Follow Us

We Accept