What is faith community nursing? Formerly called parish nursing, this professional specialty practice, recognized by the American Nurses Association since 1997, focuses on whole-person health – care of the body, mind and spirit, with particular emphasis on spiritual well-being. The integration of faith and health is the essence of this unique nursing practice.
Faith Community Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice, published by the ANA, is undergoing its third revision and is expected to incorporate the growth and evolution of the specialty. The registered professional nurse working in this ministry must work according to the nurse practice act of the state in which she is practicing and comply with the identified standards of practice.
Developed by Lutheran minister Granger Westberg in the early 1980s, faith community/parish nursing offers a professional nurse ways to provide special health promotion services within a given faith community. Westberg recognized the church has promoted health and wholeness for centuries through worship, music, sharing and caring, and that it is the only human institution in our society that interacts with individuals from birth through death. The faith community nurse (FCN) extends this historical role of the church and synagogue in the promotion of health and wellness, becoming the visible presence of an intentional health ministry, and complementing the work of the clergy and ministerial team.
The FCN is a registered nurse who has had additional educational preparation in wholistic ministry. Most nurses aren’t familiar with the theological perspectives on health and healing or with working in a congregation. Preparation for the role is through attendance at a basic education program that incorporates core concepts into its curriculum. The most noted and utilized curriculum was developed through the International Parish Nurse Resource Center (IPNRC) by 35 parish nurse experts from across the country.
In Virginia, the course is offered annually at Shenandoah University in Winchester. Educators from the university have contributed to the development and revision of the IPNRC’s core curriculum, though other programs exist in different regions. Online faith community/parish nurse courses also exist, but as an attendee of the Shenandoah University program, I cannot imagine forfeiting the spiritual enrichment that comes through fellowship with other participants in a class format that includes worship and reflection.
Education on faith community nursing practice is ongoing, and the development of a sound health ministry within a congregation requires recognition that it takes time and careful planning. It is important (and sometimes challenging) to establish an appropriate understanding that the FCN’s care of the “whole person” includes more than the provision of physical care. In most instances, an FCN does not provide hands-on care; rather, she makes referrals to home health or other community agencies to provide direct care. Optimal mental, physical and spiritual health is promoted by the FCN who performs/coordinates different services based upon the congregation’s needs. The primary functions of this nursing role include integrator of faith and health, health educator, personal health counselor, referral agent, trainer of volunteers, developer of support groups and health advocate.
Registered nurses working in an acute care setting will find the FCN course beneficial for gaining increased knowledge and understanding of spiritual care. The Joint Commission requirements include addressing patients’ spiritual needs, but those in faith community/parish nursing know the need for care of the spirit is everywhere.
Reen Markland is the faith community nurse coordinator at Winchester Medical Center/Valley Health, Winchester, VA.