[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in November 2005. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

in the classroom

Nurses embrace "sacred covenant" with patients

Ten years ago, EMU’s nursing department began exploring what sets them apart from other nursing programs. The result? The adoption of a “sacred covenant” model of nursing that is based on both faith beliefs and high professional standards and that focuses on bringing people to wholeness and healing.

“We view an individual’s story as holy ground and, as nurses, we intersect with them in sacred space.”

“We had adopted approaches to nursing that emphasize service, empathy, agape love, and empowerment,” explained Ann Hershberger, professor of nursing. “As we explored these approaches, we embraced the concept of a sacred covenant model which encompasses these approaches. It puts into words what we already thought about how we approach patients and how we, as faculty, approach our students.”

The sacred covenant model focuses on the nurse-patient relationship and the binding agreement between both parties. Patients gain healing, but nurses gain as well. They receive the honor of practicing their profession and a deep satisfaction and meaning in life.

Lisa Gascho (C 03), nurse

“Because of our faith tradition, we view an individual’s story as holy ground and, as nurses, we intersect with them in sacred space,” Hershberger noted. “As nurses we are privileged to be allowed into the most intimate points of people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable. We view the nurse-patient relationship as sacred because of the intimacy and spirituality of that connection.”

The sacred covenant approach to patients is different from a consumer model that emphasizes the business aspects of health care and views the patient as a customer without taking into account the patient’s gifts to the healer.

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To better understand this spiritual relationship between nurse and patient, EMU nursing students read a paper Hershberger wrote on the sacred covenant model in their first semester and revisit the concept each semester in various classes.

Faculty members are seeing more awareness of the term in students’ papers as they reflect on incidents in their nursing practice. As one EMU nursing student wrote:

“[My patient] was a Honduran immigrant woman—unemployed, undocumented, unmarried, spoke no English and without family in the U.S. She has a very traumatic immigration experience involving sexual violence… resulting in the conception and birth of a perfect, beautiful daughter. Initially, I could only rely on my presence to be the starting point in our partnership. I hoped something tangible could rise out of the energy and humility I invested in this woman and her child. I became someone she could trust, someone who helped her navigate the system, an advocate for her human rights. She did not hesitate to show me the sadness of her journey, the loss, the vulnerability. She also unknowingly taught me a great deal about strength, endurance and the power of her mothering love. I found myself standing on the holy ground of a sacred covenant.”

This, then, is what sets EMU’s nurses apart from others: a view of nursing as a vocation and a means to live out their daily call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

—Eileen Freuh