Caring Visionary Jean Watson Gives National Nurses Week an Energetic Start

The Miller School’s observance of National Nurses Week got off to a high-energy start with a presentation by internationally renowned nursing visionary Jean Watson, Ph.D., RN, founder and director of the Watson Caring Science Institute. Watson, Distinguished Professor and Dean Emerita of the University of Colorado Denver College of Nursing, has developed a theory of caring that takes a holistic approach to the relationship between nurse and patient.

“We stand on the shoulders of Florence Nightingale, who created the blueprint for modern nursing,” Watson told an appreciative audience of nurses and other UHealth caregivers who gathered in the courtyard of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center for the week’s opening event. “She was very clear that nursing is a calling and that we’re here to offer compassion teamed with service. It’s more than care in an institutional sense, though. I consider it a covenant that we have with humanity.”

The audience was primed for her message. W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., Sylvester’s Chief Medical Officer, had opened the program by telling the nurses about the number of letters the cancer center has received praising their “caring, concerned and expert” care.

Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School and CEO of UHealth, told them, “Quite simply, we could not deliver the care that we do to any of our patients if it were not for you. Each of you brings your very best to our patients every day.”

Also addressing the nurses were Elizabeth Smith, RN, Sylvester’s Chief Nursing Officer, and Joyce Chavarria, D.N.P., Sylvester’s Director of Hospital Patient and Community Education, who generated applause when she announced the American Nurses Association’s theme for the week — “Nurses leading the way.”

Watson brought up another element of Nightingale’s philosophy of nursing. “Nightingale was also very clear that nursing is a spiritual practice,” she said. “Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten detoured away from that. Caring has been pushed further and further into the margins.”

That marginalization, said Watson, is ending. She sees nursing moving forward, taking on larger and more important roles in health care, while at the same time returning to core values.

Philosophically, she said, “the Affordable Care Act is shifting us beyond technology and helping us redefine what caring means. This is also happening all around the world. There is an eagerness, a readiness — even a longing — to go back to core values.”

Watson said the result isn’t change; it’s transformation. “Faster, cheaper — that’s change,” she said, “and change has nothing to do with values. Transformation challenges us to draw upon the creativity of everyone in the health care system to come up with new models of care.”

Her own theory of caring, which is well known throughout nursing education, states that nursing is concerned with promoting health, preventing illness, caring for the sick and restoring health, with a focus on health promotion, not just treatment of diseases. Watson defines nursing as “a human science of persons and human health-illness experiences that are mediated by professional, personal, scientific, esthetic and ethical human transactions.”

Watson said this holistic approach is causing some institutions to rethink their mission. She gave an example from her backyard: Boulder Community Hospital, which has renamed itself Boulder Community Health. Many hospitals, she said, are also developing healing sanctuaries, which use a variety of integrative approaches to working with patients. She expressed delight that some of them are being called “Watson rooms.”

“Nurses are waking up the healthcare system,” she said. “What we bring to our work is the unveiling of potential for what the caregiver-patient relationship can be.”

Among the program’s attendees was JoAnn Trybulski, Ph.D., Chief Nursing Officer at University of Miami Hospital. “Jean Watson is a world-renowned living legend in the field of nursing,” she said. “Her call to action for nurses to remain true to our profession’s calling by blending the art with the science of nursing practice inspires all of us to remember what a privilege it is for us to be a nurse and to be with another human being in their time of need. The experience of hearing her in person is one I will treasure.”

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