Nursing and the Standard of Unconditional Love

Below is Ms. Bush’s acceptance speech for the 2010 Excellence in Advanced Practice Nursing Hillman Award, entitled, “Unconditional Love”:

“Throughout my life I have made a practice of exploring the great religions of the world.  This quest has led me to the foothills of the Himalayas, into urban homeless shelters, to the banks of the Ganges River, into Native American sweat lodge ceremonies, to the silence of meditation retreats, and inside a multitude of Christian, Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic Shrines. With each and every spiritual path encountered, I discovered the phenomenon known as Unconditional Love being hailed as the highest and most desirable state of human existence.  It is described as rare, elusive, and all-pervasive.  I believe it is the unspoken ethic of Nursing, manifested as truthfulness, fidelity, and respect for human dignity.

Like wind blowing across the surface of a lake, Unconditional Love cannot be perceived directly, but is seen only by the ripples which its presence creates.  It has been my great, good fortune to catch a glimpse of it on a number of occasions during the course of my career as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.

In each and every instance, Unconditional Love did not reveal itself in a vacuum.  Rather, it always appeared as a by-product of intense adversity and the struggle to overcome it.  Indeed, by definition, Love untested in the fires of tribulation, cannot be described as unconditional.

As Nurses, there is hardly a time that we will encounter people who are not facing trying times.  It is, therefore, essential for us to cultivate a standard of Unconditional Love as an integral component of our Nursing Practices. It is this marvelous phenomenon, alone, that sets Nursing apart from all other health care professions.  The profession of Nursing has long been associated with selflessness, patient advocacy, and non-judgmental acceptance of all individuals.  Indeed, without such lofty ethics, we are only highly educated assistive personnel, different only in name and licensure from medical or physician’s assistants and other health care technicians.

During, this gathering of celebration of nursing in general and Penn Nursing in particular, I challenge each of you to examine your hearts for the presence of Unconditional Love.

Question yourselves:

Of what use is knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology, if we do not comprehend that the only real difference between the races is the degree of melanin contained within our dermal layers?

Of what use is an academic understanding of genetics, if we fail to understand that it is only the presence or absence of a microscopic chromosome that determines whether a child will have the opportunity to experience life free of having to struggle with the tribulations of mental retardation or cystic fibrosis?

What is the purpose of understanding Sociology, if we cannot understand that the only distinction between landed gentry and the homeless population is having the good fortune of being able to pay the mortgage company?

Where is our ethic of respect for human dignity if we fail to understand that the only distinction between a working class hero’s family and the family dependent upon welfare is the increasingly rare commodity of job security and a regular pay check?

To what end is our knowledge of Psychopathology if we forget that the only difference between the mentally ill and “well-adjusted” members of society is the degree of neurotransmitters available at the neurological synapses?

Of what purpose is the study of Developmental Psychology if we cannot perceive that only a developmental stage separates the recklessness of adolescence from the frailty of old age?

Consider that an education in Microbiology is quite empty without the ability to set aside value judgments and tend to the compassionate care of HIV-infected individuals and their loved ones.

To what end is the knowledge of Human Biology if we do not recognize that it is only the absence or presence of Unconditional Love that determines whether we are truly human beings or merely some version of higher primates?

Finally, of what purpose are our Nursing Ethics unless we fully understand that it is only the indefatigable and determined practice of Unconditional Love that differentiates Nursing from all other healing disciplines?

It is my sincere prayer that these questions and the answers to them will arise in your minds and manifest themselves through your actions throughout your careers as Nurses.

In closing, because many of you have Unconditional Love have  earned the elusive and amazing awards given to today by the Hillman Foundation through your own unique expressions of Unconditional Love ; I am borrowing an ancient Polynesian phrase that means both “Hello” and “Good-by,” as well as Love. ALOHA!”

Your Servant,  Elizabeth Bush, MSN, APRN-Rx, CARN-AP, CSAC
Board Certified Psychiatric Advanced Practice Nurse (NP and CNS)
Certified Addiction Registered Nurse, Advanced Practice
Certified Substance Abuse Counselor
Penn Nursing Alumnus 1998 (BSN) 1999 (MSN)

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