sacred covenant

EMU nursing faculty say they “view an individual’s story as holy ground and, as nurses, we intersect with them in sacred space.”

Sacred Covenant Model of Nursing

What sets EMU nurses apart from others? Professors explored this question in the 1990s and adopted a “sacred covenant” model. It’s a view of nursing as a vocation and a means to live out the daily call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

The sacred covenant is based on both faith and high professional standards, on bringing people to wholeness and healing. The EMU nursing program emphasizes service, empathy, agape love, empowerment, and the nurse-patient relationship. Patients gain healing, but nurses gain as well. They receive the honor of practicing their profession and a deep satisfaction and meaning in life.

Most EMU nurses have learned from Ann Hershberger, professor and director of EMU’s MS in Nursing and Leadership program. “Because of our faith tradition, we view an individuals story as holy ground and, as nurses, we intersect with them in sacred space,” Hershberger says. “As nurses we are privileged to be allowed into the most intimate points of peoples 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.”

Considering the patient’s gifts to the healer

EMU nursing graduate at work at RMHThe 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 patients gifts

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.