Reflective Journaling for Nursing Students: A Guide

Written by Brandon L.
May 21, 202417 min read

Did you know that for every experience you encounter, you could reflect on it and learn? As a nurse, you will navigate complex and challenging clinical experiences filled with varied emotions, interventions, decisions, etc, influencing your actions. A nursing reflective journal offers a way to pause, think, and analyze how these feelings and experiences influence and shape your behavior and practice. It is a personal record; call it a diary, where nurses document their thoughts, experiences, emotions, and encounters related to clinical practice.

Knowing how to write a reflective journal assignment is one of the best ways of understanding the past to predict the future. While these papers are personal, they should have an academic tone, which is why most students struggle to write one. However, fear not!

In this guide, our nursing writers have done the heavy lifting, and in this article, they take you through what a reflective journal entails and its importance and provide step-by-step instructions on how to write a reflective journal.

Reflective Journal Meaning?

Reflective journaling in nursing refers to writing about your feelings, thoughts, fears, opinions, and interactions about a specific event. It is a way to explore the “so what" question rather than "what."

Reflective thinking entails the following elements: 1) description, where you talk about the experience; 2) interpretation, which is how your experience challenged your existing knowledge and opinions; and 3) outcome, which is how the experience contributed to your understanding and professional development.

As a nursing student, your instructor will ask you to write your reflections about an experience during clinical rotations. You will need to be introspective and deeply examine your thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the event before writing them.

Reflective thinking is used in nursing to help students and nurses develop critical thinking skills and the art of reflection to understand better and clarify stubborn concepts.

History of Reflective Practice

Reflective writing has its roots in education. John Dewey, a philosopher and educator, addressed reflection in 1910 as "Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends." This is considered the first description of reflective writing.

Over the years, this description has had many interpretations, but the message is still the same.

Dewey believed that every experience is a source of learning. Reflective thinking is activated the moment you sense a problem or any situation. By going deeper and understanding those experiences and trying to solve the problem through available data, you create a connection between beliefs, thoughts, opinions, and real actions.

Another prominent contributor to reflective practices was Donal Schön, an American theorist and educator. In his book, “The Reflective Practitioner," Schön describes reflection as an important practice that helps professionals, including nurses, to critically examine all their experiences in a real-world context.

Schön’s ideas were not specifically related to nursing. However, they had a profound effect on nursing education, shaping the way nursing students engage in reflective journaling to enhance their future clinical skills.

Why is Reflecting Important in Nursing?

The following are the reasons why reflection in nursing is important:

Close the Gap between Theory and Practice

Nursing instructors believe that writing a reflective journal in nursing can help close the gap between theory and practice by facilitating the inclusion of a theoretical framework into clinical experience. Reflective journaling allows you to apply theories learned in the classroom to real-world hospital situations. When you can document your experience and reflect on how nursing theories and principles apply in practice, you can deepen your knowledge of a theory and how it is helpful in nursing interventions.

Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

By engaging in reflective thinking practices, you can critically analyze a clinical situation and identify areas of improvement. Remember, reflective thinking is about deliberate stranger contemplation of your experiences and actions. Applying this in real-life situations will force you to critically assess the situation and relate the new knowledge acquired to prior knowledge.

In other words, you will be forced to cultivate in-depth critical thinking, which entails asking questions, analyzing, and integrating your answers.

Teaching Strategy for Educators

Reflective journals in nursing are important for students, but educators can also use them as a teaching strategy. When students engage in reflective writing, educators can identify areas they are struggling with or gaps in knowledge and competence. Then, they can develop additional education and training opportunities to address these gaps.

By taking a proactive approach to learning, educators can ensure their students continuously enhance their knowledge and competence while also staying updated on nursing research and evidence-based practices.

Enhance Self-Awareness

Self-awareness refers to the ability to focus on yourself and how your thoughts, feelings, and opinions align or do not align with your values and standards. Research shows that self-awareness is essential in nursing and profoundly affects nurse-patient relationships and patient care. When you engage in reflective thinking practices, you take a close look at yourself. Still, more importantly, you develop a deeper understanding of your beliefs, values, and biases that influence your decisions and interactions in a clinical experience.

Step-by-step Guide for Writing a Nursing Reflective Journal

Reflective journaling in nursing takes a structured process that involves documenting and reflecting on your thoughts, emotions, and actions about a clinical experience. Use the following steps to write your reflections:

Choose What to Reflect On

First, take time to think about what you want to reflect on before writing the paper. As a nurse or a nursing student, you can reflect on anything you experience during your shift, ranging from a missed diagnosis, stubborn or dissatisfied patients, a nursing ethical dilemma, a failed surgery or procedure, etc.

You can also reflect on things that went right in your shift, such as:

If you are not sure which experience to focus on, use the following tips to help you:

No matter which event happened during your clinical, you can reflect on it and use it for self-development.

Ensure you choose a topic that resonates with you lea, leads to deep introspection, and facilitates personal growth.

Choose a Topic

Just like other types of academic writing, your reflective journal in nursing must have a topic. A topic will provide focus and direction and guide you when writing. The topic you select will guide the writing process, so it is important that you take time to choose the right topic.

So, what is the best topic for a reflection paper? Well, the best topic must have the following characteristics:

Ensure you consider all the characteristics when selecting a topic to provide a meaningful reflection and learning.

Choose a Proper Format

The first step to writing your nursing reflective journal is choosing the right to follow. Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, your reflection paper must contain the following elements:

The introduction is where you introduce the essence of your paper. Start your reflection paper by briefly introducing what you are reflecting upon so that readers know what to expect. Additionally, provide a thesis statement that provides a general opinion of the subject you are analyzing. This could be a lecture, a nursing article, a clinical experience, etc.

The body of your reflection paper should explore the main idea of your paper. In other words, the thesis statement. Go into detail about what you went through and how it influenced you. This is where you also talk about what you learned from the experience.

Conclusion. As the last part of your reflection paper, the conclusion should briefly state the thoughts, opinions, and experiences discussed in the paper. It should also state what you learn based on your analysis of the experiences.

That said, most reflective journal assignments in nursing are written in APA, Harvard, Vancouver, or AMA format. Ensure that your in-text citations and references align with the formatting styles.

Select a Reflective Framework for Your Nursing Reflective Journal

A reflective framework is a model that guides the thought process and reasoning about a particular event. Whenever you engage in reflective practices, you must use a reflective framework to write down your thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the events.

There are various models of reflection you can use. The main framework is Gibbs's reflective model, a powerful tool that fosters deep learning and critical thinking. Developed by Grahams Gibbs, this reflective model provides a structured framework for writing your reflective journal in nursing.

Some of the reflective models you can use when engaging in reflective practices include:

Ensure you select a reflective model that resonates with you and provides guides that help you write your reflection in a structured format.

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Describe the Experience

Go into detail about what you went through. Be objective about this and ensure you recount in detail the experience. To help you with this, use the following questions:

What happened?

The main things to include at this point involve what happened. Whenever you talk about the experience, detail it in the order in which it happened. Paint a clear and accurate picture of what occurred. Think of this stage as narrating the story only when you are providing facts. Do not talk about feelings or opinions.

Identify your Feelings about the Experience

This stage calls for self-reflection in your nursing reflective journal. Discuss your feelings during the experience and acknowledge any frustration, joy, anger, empathy, or other emotions you felt during the event.

Take a moment to think back to the event. What emotions were you experiencing? What was your gut reaction? Were you disgusted? Frightened? Angry?

After the event occurred, how did your feelings change? Detail how your feelings change with each passing moment.

Next, think of how those involved in the event might have felt. Did you observe any reactions? For instance, did someone throw up? Cry? Storm out of the room? Ensure you talk about all this, as they will help you make sense of the events.

Use these questions to describe your emotions in detail. Remember, by being detailed in your descriptions, the reader will feel what you felt.

Analyze the Experience

At this stage of your nursing reflection journal, evaluate the experience by considering both your actions and outcomes. Assess the situation by considering both the good and bad. Ask yourself, the following questions to properly make your evaluations:

Provide an Analysis 

Up until now, you aimed to describe the events and feelings. Now you have the opportunity to say what it all means. In other words, this is the point where you make sense of what happened during the experience.

Ask yourself the following questions to analyze the situation properly:

Basically, ask questions like, so what? And why?

Ensure you connect the experience to a nursing theory. To ensure this is successful, choose a theory that aligns with the topic of your reflection. For example, if your reflection is about the challenges you encountered when communicating with patients, choose a theory like Trans-cultural Nursing Theory.

Once you have chosen the theory, identify its concepts, which will help you as you write. Talk about how your actions, decisions, and emotions align with or diverge from the principles of the chosen theory.

Please note that this part is analytical. So, do not describe it; analyze it by analyzing the experience, emotions, and feelings to make sense of everything.

Pay attention as you write this section, as it will determine whether you indeed learned something from the events that happened. Many students lose marks at this point because they fail to capture the essence of

Write Your Conclusion

Think about what can be concluded from the event that happened and the analyses you have done.

Ask yourself the following:

Consider providing examples of how you intend to apply all the lessons learned. This way, you will show your instructors that you have truly reflected on the experiences.

Develop an Action Plan

At this stage, you should wrap up anything else you need to understand about the experience and what you should improve in the future. So, how do you write an action plan for a reflection?

Use the following questions to help you develop a great action plan:

Remember, the action plan is about the future of you and your actions. So, capture this action well in your reflective journal nursing.

Proofread and Revise Your Paper

Once you are done writing, take some time off, preferably a day or two, depending on the deadlines given, before reviewing your paper. This will allow you to review your paper with a fresh pair of eyes and ensure you identify any errors in your work.

Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors and correct them. Additionally, ensure that your nursing reflective journal has properly described your experience and feelings and provided an evaluation analysis before finally writing your action plan.

Example of a Reflective Journal

Below is an example of a reflective journal written by a student who did a clinical rotation with a patient named Mrs. Smith. If you need to hire a nursing writer to write your reflective journal, don't hesitate to place an order on our website. 


Today, I cared for Mrs. Smith, a 78-year-old patient admitted with pneumonia. Mrs. Smith presented with difficulty breathing, a persistent cough, and decreased oxygen saturation levels.


Mrs. Smith was visibly distressed upon arrival, her labored breathing evident even from a distance. As I approached her bedside, I noticed her apprehension, which mirrored my own. Despite my attempts to maintain a calm demeanor, I could feel my heart racing as I assessed her condition.

 Thoughts and Feelings

Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the severity of Mrs. Smith's symptoms and the urgency of her situation. Doubts crept into my mind about whether I possessed the skills and knowledge necessary to provide effective care. However, as I focused on attending to her immediate needs, my anxiety began to subside, replaced by a sense of determination and purpose.


Reflecting on the experience, I recognize that my initial reaction was driven by fear of the unknown and a lack of confidence in my abilities. However, as I engaged with Mrs. Smith and collaborated with my colleagues, I drew upon my training and expertise to deliver competent and compassionate care. This experience reaffirmed the importance of remaining calm under pressure and trusting in my capabilities as a nurse.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One strength I demonstrated during this encounter was my ability to prioritize Mrs. Smith's needs and mobilize resources efficiently. However, I acknowledge that there were moments when I struggled to maintain composure, particularly when her condition deteriorated. Moving forward, I aim to cultivate resilience and emotional regulation to better cope with challenging situations.

Alternative Actions

In hindsight, I recognize that I could have benefited from seeking assistance earlier when Mrs. Smith's condition worsened. By involving other members of the healthcare team sooner, we could have implemented interventions more promptly and potentially mitigated the escalation of her symptoms.

Theory and Practice

This experience underscored the significance of effective communication and interdisciplinary collaboration in nursing practice. By leveraging the expertise of my colleagues and adhering to evidence-based protocols, we were able to optimize Mrs. Smith's care and achieve positive outcomes.

Goals for Improvement

Going forward, I aspire to enhance my crisis management skills and develop strategies for maintaining composure in high-stress situations. Additionally, I intend to pursue further education and training in respiratory care to broaden my knowledge base and enhance my ability to care for patients with pulmonary conditions.

Action Plan

To achieve these goals, I will seek out opportunities for professional development, such as attending workshops or enrolling in relevant courses. I will also engage in regular reflection and seek feedback from my peers and mentors to continually refine my practice.

This journal entry serves as a testament to my growth as a nurse and a commitment to ongoing learning and improvement. Through reflection and self-awareness, I strive to cultivate the skills and attributes necessary to deliver exemplary care and make a meaningful difference in the lives of my patients.

Final Thoughts

Writing a nursing reflective journal is never a walk in the pack. However, by following the above guide, you can write a reflective journal in nursing that captures the vents, critically analyzes them, and improves your future experiences as a nurse.

If you need help with writing these or any other types of nursing papers, we can help. Our writers have the skills and expertise to help guide you when writing a reflection paper. Reach out to us today for high-quality papers.

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