Parish Nursing is a Fast Growing Trend – Nursing Studies 100 Level Course)
While parish nursing is a fast growing trend in congregational settings, its ideas on wholistic healthcare and functions of the parish nurse are still widely unknown. Parish nursing’s roots began centuries ago and is now planting the concepts of whole person health care in local congregations around the United States. Granger Westberg, a Lutheran minister, saw the need for preventative health care in the form of mind, body, and spiritual counseling.
Centuries ago ancient Greeks and Romans perceived healing and religion as identical. Monks and nuns served as healers in religious orders such as the famous Sisters of Charity (McGee, 1998). The church was a place for the sick to come and be healed physically and spiritually. Many of the first hospitals were built and supported financially by congregations. Granger Westberg recognized the positive connection the church and hospital had together years ago and proposed the idea of having a professional registered nurse work in the congregation and set up a wellness clinic.
Westberg tested his idea in poor neighborhoods with volunteer medical professionals and received positive reviews from community members, hospitals, and churches. The program gained popularity and thus spawned parish nursing in the United States in the late 1970s (Peterson, 1982).
The term “wholistic” health care is fairly new and is often confused with holistic health care. While holistic health care focuses on working with people’s energy and involves practices such as acupuncture, wholistic health care focuses on a person’s mind, body, and spirituality. Wholistic health care is centered on the belief that a person’s spirituality and outlook on life is directly related to a person’s health. Parish nursing is a way to encompass both the science of healthcare and the spirituality of religion. Granger Westberg believes parish nursing bridges the gap between religion and health (Mcgee, 1998).
According to Solari-Twadell and Mcdermott in their book Parish Nursing-Promoting Whole Person Health Within Faith Communities, the philosophy behind this unique profession is that “Parish nursing holds the spiritual dimensions to be central to the practice. It also encompasses the physical, psychological, and social dimensions of nursing practice. It focuses on the spirituality of the nurse and their skills experience.” The book also outlines the seven functions of the parish nurse which include: integrator of faith and health, health educator, personal health counselor, referral agent, trainer of volunteers, developer of support groups, and health advocate. The beauty of parish nursing is the individual approach of nursing can be determined by the parish and thus it can serve his or her congregation’s special needs.
While the American Nurses Association and Health Ministries Association have standards of practice for the profession of parish nursing, each parish nurse must individualize her focus of practice for their congregation to meet the communities individualized needs. One parish nurse describes her role, “It is not to provide hands on nursing, but to be a resource in the church community for problem solving in medical and or spiritual matters” (Lehman, 2004).
Registered nurses interested in becoming a parish nurse must undergo the basic preparation which includes 30 hours of continuing education, orientation, meetings with congregations and health ministries. Classes in theology of health, history, philosophy, and working with churches are also recommended (Solari-Twadell and Mcdermott, 1999). As the profession of parish nursing has grown, standards of practice have been determined by the A.N.A. and H.M.A. which legitimize parish nursing as a profession.
Many also argue that there should be a more structured for of education requirements for persons interested in becoming a parish nurse. Once a parish nurse enters a congregation they must perform a documented assessment on the congregational community. This assessment informs the parish nurse on the issues that are most important to the community and help the parish nurse to make an individualized plan of care. For example, if high blood pressure is a problem in the community the parish nurse can set up monthly blood pressure checks. The parish nurse isn’t the only person that needs to be educated, the pastor is a key component to the success of a parish nurse program and should be educated on the benefits parish nursing has on a community. It is important for the pastor and parish nurse to meet on a regular basis to discuss parishioners and improvements that can be made in the congregation.
Individuality is an important characteristic for parish nurses. Each congregation has different needs and it is important for the parish nurse to recognize these needs and address them with full potential. Due to the individuality of congregations across the United States there are two basic types of parish nurse programs, the volunteer model and the paid model. Due to limited funds, many congregations have volunteer parish nurses that donate their time to the congregation a few hours a week. According to one journal article, Parish nurse special interest group: organizational framework for parish nursing, there are ups and downs to each model. The benefits of the volunteer model according to parish nurses include: “serves as a mean to use our expertise while serving our faith community, gives the parish nurse and faith community a chance to try out the program and it is affordable to the faith community.” Downs include: “availability limited by the amount of time the parish nurse can devote, limits what the faith community can ask of the parish nurse, and the question of the accountability of the volunteer vs. the paid parish nurse” (Parish nurse special, 2001). Whether volunteer or paid, a parish nurse program benefits any congregation.
As parish nursing continues to grow as a profession, educational standards and models of framework will improve and the success of parish nurse programs will flourish. Parish nursing is a profession dedicated to serving the whole person including mind, body, and spirit and would be a benefit to any faith community.