Celebrating Caritas Colleague Jill Blackbourn

November 2020

We continue to highlight our Caritas Colleagues and share their contribution and commitment to Caring Science. This month we are celebrating: Jill Louise Blackbourn, RN, Caritas Coach®, HeartMath Certified Trainer.

just BE it

Can you remember a moment where you were so profoundly moved that the experience touched you in mind, body, and spirit? That was me in 2008 when I heard Dr. Jean Watson speak at my organization, Gundersen Health System (GHS) in La Crosse, Wisconsin. My spirit soared as I listened and felt the love in her words; tears surprised me as they sprang to my eyes; and my mind grasped again the profound simplicity of loving and caring for others. And I wanted more…more of Jean’s wisdom, more of this feeling, more understanding.

In 2012, this “more” officially happened. Dr. Watson was once again visiting our organization and invited us to become a Watson Caring Science Institute Affiliate. Shortly thereafter, my beloved chief nursing officer, Dr. Mary Lu Gerke, asked me if I would be interested in applying to the Caritas Coach Education Program® (CCEP) with another colleague. I immediately said “yes”, and thus began my Caritas journey.

So, in 2012 in my 36th year as a nurse, having practiced in obstetrics and emergency care and now in the Department of Nursing, I graduated from CCEP Cohort 7 with my colleague and dear friend, Denise Nicholson. The program inspired us to go back to Gundersen ready to “transform self and system” as a Caritas Coach®…but how? A moment that stands out to me occurred at an event at Viterbo University in La Crosse shortly thereafter when I was talking with my friend, Dean of Nursing Dr. Silvana Richardson, who had graduated from CCEP in the previous cohort. I told her we had lots of ideas, but felt a bit overwhelmed and asked, “How do we begin?” Her words were powerful and so influential, as she repeated what Jean had shared at her graduation, and that was “just BE it”. Suddenly, it didn’t seem so unreachable or overwhelming. I WANTED to “just be it”, and though I understood the life-long journey of Caritas even then, I knew I could at least continue with this in my heart and as my goal. This continues as my compass.

What did we do…. (contributions to the legacy of Caring Science)

With Mary Lu’s full support, trust and participation, Denise and I began meeting with a small group of interested persons from many disciplines. This group soon transformed into our Caritas Circle. This multidisciplinary team, made up of staff nurses, nurses in leadership, physicians, and members from social work, pastoral care, respiratory care, physical therapy, and the sustainability program, helped to cultivate and grow Caring Science in our organization. Centering rooms were created for reflection and renewal. The idea for Nightingale Rounds was born in Circle, a venue where all employees were invited to hear presenters from many different areas in the organization share “meaningful stories of caring connections with others” that were then linked to the Caritas Processes®. In 2015, the Circle, along with our colleagues at Viterbo University, hosted the 21st International Caritas Consortium. Denise and I created and edited a video for this event, with help from our medical media department, which featured these and other Caritas projects that were underway.

Denise and I led work to launch an essential oils program at GHS. We created Caritas orientation programs for new employees, nursing orientation, chaplain students, nurse interns, and others. We designed and implemented an eight-month Caritas Residency Program that offered an opportunity for accepted applicants to “go deeper” into Caring Science and create a project that would help engage staff in their work environment, and presented this work at ICC in 2015.

Early on, nursing at GHS adopted Dr. Jean Watson’s Human Caring Theory as the foundation for a new nursing professional framework. We were able to showcase this work at Kaiser Permanente Southern California in 2014; in a video and resource material created with the Advisory Board and at ICC in 2016.

As I neared retirement, I wondered and worried how I would continue living and teaching Caritas. But that fear was squelched when I was asked to join the faculty of WCSI as a mentor in CCEP. What a gift! I also now serve as registrar for this program. It has been a blessing to continue Jean’s legacy and partner with its amazing Director Jan Anderson and all the loving faculty and staff as well as the many beautiful students from all corners of the United States and beyond.

The “more” continues!

Areas of expertise

I enjoy creating, writing, editing, presenting and sharing teaching/learning experiences that further expand the horizons for Caritas with others. I am most joy-filled when I see these Caritas pebbles ripple when shared by others:

When a new nurse writes how her perceptions of another change because of a reflective exercise she did in our Nurse Residency Caritas education: “I want to listen more, figure out how to spend more time with patients…Maybe I could ask patients at the beginning of the shift what would make it a good day.”

When a new manager attends Centralized Nursing Orientation, learning of the Nursing Professional Framework and Caritas, and the very next month incorporates a Caritas message into her newsletter to staff.

When a physician shares how she is incorporating Caritas while teaching her third-year medical students about empathy and compassion and care for each other – and how later, as they are graduating, she receives an award because of their nominations for her compassionate teaching.

It’s the ever-delightful ripples of Caritas – truly caring for each other – that inspire me and make me happy to be part of something bigger.