Thelma Shobe Endowed Chair and Lectureship in Ethics & Spirituality logo

At a School of Nursing Celebration hosted by Emeritus Dean Kathleen Dracup on November 13, 2002, Patricia Benner, RN, PhD, FAAN was named first Chair Holder of the Thelma Shobe Endowed Chair in Ethics and Spirituality.

In July 2008, Dean Dracup announced that Catherine (Kit) Chesla, RN, PhD, FAAN, had been selected to succeed Dr. Benner as holder of the Shobe Chair.

Catherine (Kit) Chesla, RN, PhD, FAAN

Headshot of Kit Chesla

Dr. Chesla is Professor and Interim Chair, Department of Family Health Care Nursing, UCSF School of Nursing. The goals of the Thelma Shobe Chair in Ethics and Spirituality are to identify the spiritual dimensions of nursing practice, and to provide leadership in addressing the ethical and spiritual challenges raised by technological advances in health care. Dr. Sulmasy, in the Second Annual Shobe Lecture defined spirituality broadly: "The primary spiritual questions are these: questions of meaning, questions of value and questions of relationships." Dr. Chesla's work aligns with the goals of the Shobe Chair through her enduring commitment to explore and illuminate how families, through their relationships and caring practices heal and hold the person who is ill. Her work is directed at articulating, and helping others articulate, the practical ethical comportment of patients and families in the face of chronic illness, and the ways in which health care services and structures support or impede their ways of coping with everyday challenges. Details about Dr. Chesla's current work and publications can be found here.

Mission StatementChair

Thelma Shobe Endowed Chair in Ethics and Spirituality

Within the mission of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Nursing, the commission of the Thelma Shobe Endowed Chair in Ethics and Spirituality is twofold:

Florence Nightingale viewed spirituality as both intrinsic to human nature and compatible with science. Research during the century following her death has demonstrated the validity of her belief. Based on current and relevant research, the first mission of the Chair is to identify the spiritual dimensions of nursing practice and to provide leadership for their implementation where indicated and appropriate in the education and practice of care givers.

Science has provided and continues to provide new and ever-more powerful technologies over the life of human beings and disease processes. The second mission of the Chair is to provide leadership in addressing the question: How should caregivers address the ethical and spiritual challenges raised by the astonishing successes of these exciting discoveries?

Thelma Cook
December 16, 2005

Joint Statement: "The Spiritual, the Ethical, and Caring"

Patricia Benner and Thelma Cook

There is no one definition of spirituality to which all those who use the term might agree. As used here, it is broadly defined and includes but is not limited to the following:

The term spirit derives from the Latin spiritus, “breathing,” which in turn is related to the Latin spirare, “to breathe.” Today, the dictionary definition of spirit is given, in part, as follows: The animating or vital principle in human being in contrast to human beings' purely material elements as well as the soul of the person, concepts with which not all present-day scholars and scientists agree.

We each move in two worlds—the inward of our own awareness and an outward of our perception and participation in the history of our time and place. Many people describe themselves as religious and many describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. Some think of themselves as both religious as well as spiritual. And some think of themselves as neither. To the religious, spirituality is connected with and intertwined with their tradition—the cathedral, the theology, the ceremony, the social milieu, love and care of others, and the life of faith. To the spiritual, it is that compelling response to and engagement with that difficult-to-describe primal reality present in us all, a guiding force behind all that one pursues and achieves in life—art, science, literature, education, love, one's relationship with the divine, one's search for life's meaning, and so forth.
Because one's sense of spirituality is individual to each person, mediated as it may be by tradition, experience, circumstance, and one's time and place, it may best be described by each individual for himself or herself.

Why consider the subject of spirituality with the subject of ethics?

The term ethic is derived from the Greek term meaning “character,” and, when used in the plural, ethics, it refers to moral philosophy, the department of study concerned with the principles of human duty and notions of the good. When applied to the characteristic spirit and prevalent tone of the sentiment of a people of a community, it is called ethos.

Religion consists of a faith that there is an order, seen or unseen, adjustment to which one's supreme good depends. Thus, the theology and teachings of one's chosen faith become embedded in one's conscience and become present in one's senses and in one's thoughts. One's concept of reality can attach itself so strongly to one's object of belief that one's entire life is organized by the sense of the existence of that in which one believes. In addition to the religious, there is the universe of other abstract ideas and concerns such as beauty, justice, love, and what we, individually and collectively as a society, care about. And, of course, there is one's sense of one's own spirituality that plays its role. The individual both constitutes and is constituted by the ethos of the community.

Because religious, spiritual, and other abstract ideas form the background and give their color to the all that one perceives, it may justly be said that they also serve as the fountain-head for all that one imagines and creates. Therefore, it seems only natural that the ethical aspects of man should be considered alongside the spiritual components of man.


Nursing has been referred to as The Science of Caring because it is a caring practice, the definition of which is as follows: Organized, specific practices related to caring for and about others. Caring practices are lived out in this culture primarily in parenting, child care, nursing, education, counseling, and various forms of community life. An ethic, a way of knowing, and practical knowledge are lived out in specific caring practices so that it is possible to recognize and discuss what counts as caring—or not caring, in specific instances.

Care or concern set up meaningful worlds where some things stand out as more or less salient. Because caring sets up what matters to a person, it also sets up what counts as stressful and what options are available for coping. Care sets up embodied intentionality that allows the person to get around in the world Caring creates possibility. This is the first way in which is caring is primary (i.e., ontological).

Care and caring are world constituting. This enabling condition of connection and concern is another way in which caring is primary. Embodiment sets up situated freedom, locating the person in a particular place and time and enabling the living out of particular concerns. Without structures of care, one would not know how to get around in the world. One can imagine being lost in a large universe of infinite possibilities or of nothingness. Either way, the individual is radically alone and detached. Yet no individual can sustain such empty disconnected existence. Caring (i.e., having things matter) allows one to be available in the situation, to notice what is at stake or what needs to be done.

Finally, caring is primary because it sets up the possibility of giving help and receiving help. Caring sets up the possibility for acting in the world. Hannah Arendt pointed out that we have come so far in our elaboration of the self that we have lost our understanding of the public world and the place of action in the world. Action that brings something new into one's world, or that opens the horizons of a diminished world, can be bold or simple. To be human is to dwell in a particular world of embodied capacities, concerns and relationships. Without this situatedness in a lifeworld, one loses the ability to feel at home in the world.

Caring practices are necessarily related to local specific lifeworlds and to specific concerns and lived meanings. Therefore, it seems only natural that the spiritual aspects of being human are deeply connected to ethics, and ethos---the practices and concerns of well-being and flourishing of human beings (Abstracted from Primacy of Caring: Stress and Coping in Health and Illness by Benner, P., Wrubel, J Addison-Wesley: Menlo Park, CA., and “The Phenomenon of Care” by Patricia Benner in S.K. Toornbs (Ed.), Handbook of Phenomenology and Medicine, 351—369. © 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers - Printed in The Netherlands.)

Out of a deep sense of caring comes this definition of spirituality:

“Spirituality is defined broadly and as a deeply human search for meaning in life. What matters to us most; what we are concerned about, sustains our everyday ways of being in the world and our relationship with others; as such, it is connected to meanings and spirituality. For some this self-understanding and sense of meaning is lodged in religious traditions, for others it can be lodged in the sense of freedom and mastery associated with science and problem-solving, for others, it may be related to individual or communal spiritual practices.” — Patricia Benner