After spending nearly a half century elevating the concept of caring into the realm of hard science, former University of Colorado College of Nursing Dean Jean Watson was selected as a `Living Legend’ of the American Academy of Nursing for extraordinary contributions to her profession.
“This is the highest honor from the academy so I feel very humbled by the recognition,” said Watson, distinguished professor of nursing and Dean Emerita of CU College of Nursing. “I feel that the work I have done all of these years is exactly what’s needed now due to the transformation of health care and the need to go beyond traditional Western approaches to disease.”
Watson, PhD, has written more than 18 books and is founder of the original Center for Human Caring in Colorado.
“Clinical nurses and academic programs throughout the world use Dr. Watson’s published works on the philosophy and theory of human caring and the art and science of caring in nursing,” said College of Nursing Dean Sarah Thompson. “Her latest books range from empirical measurements and international research on caring, to new postmodern philosophies of caring and healing, philosophy and science of caring and caring science as sacred science.”
Watson, who began working at CU in 1973, retired last year and holds ten honorary degrees including seven international doctorates. She also held the nation’s first endowed chair in Caring Science at CU. Her resume alone extends to 50 pages.
Yet her passion is remarkably elemental.
Watson has transformed the concept of caring into an ethical and philosophical practice worthy of scientific inquiry and research. And her theories have been incorporated into nursing education programs the world over.
None of this came easily. Watson spent years writing books and essays on caring but didn’t fully comprehend it until experiencing her own trauma – losing an eye in an accident and then losing her husband to an untimely death.
“I awakened and grasped my own writing,” she says. “I was given the painful but loving, growing blessings of spiritual mystical experiences…and learned my oneness with all. I learned that all there is, is love. We are all energy of LOVE. Love is the greatest source of all healing.”
After retiring, she founded the non-profit Watson Caring Science Institute and International Caritas Consortium in Boulder dedicated to creating, conducting and sponsoring caring science research all over the world. A major goal is to “restore the under-developed ethical values of love and compassion back into healthcare.”
Watson travels extensively to promote her ideas. She is working with nurses in the Middle East hoping to transcend political and religious differences to advance the cause of caring. She recently went to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, and in May, she’s going to Japan.
Watson says science is finding increasingly strong links between caring and the effectiveness of medical treatment.
“You must realize you’re not dealing in isolation, that you are connected with the person. You must be aware of how your presence is affecting the person for better or worse,” she said. “You must be authentically present, be mindful that what you hold in your heart matters. You help the person be in the right relationship with themselves. Holding their stories, their tears, that might be the healing gift you can give them.”
The Living Legend award was presented Oct. 16 in Washington, D.C.
“I truly believe that my work will have a life beyond me,” Watson said. “This is the real honor.”