What is a Parish Nurse?
By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN
Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a professional freelance writer with almost a decade of experience as a Registered Nurse. She’s worked in both hospitals and nursing homes as a med-surg, geriatric and transplant nurse. Her national publication credits include Parents, RN, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nursing Spectrum, Pregnancy and Journal of Christian Nursing.
While all nurses care for patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs, parish nurses take their concern a step farther. Parish nurses minister to patients’ health needs, but are equally cognizant of patients’ spiritual needs. Most parish nurses practice within one faith tradition and see their practice as an outgrowth of their religious belief. Parish nursing is also a form of community nursing. Parish nurses practice within a faith community and use their nursing skills and expertise to increase the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the community. The American Nursing Association recognizes parish nursing, under the name Faith Community Nursing, as an official sub-specialty.
Parish nurses are registered nurses (preferably BSN-prepared nurses) with two to five years of experience. Parish nurses must also demonstrate substantial personal spiritual growth and involvement. Many are involved in theological education, congregational ministry or other church organizations.
Before practicing parish nursing, a qualified RN must complete a basic preparation course in parish nursing based on the standardized core curriculum endorsed by the International Parish Nurse Resource Center. Students study the history and philosophy of parish nursing, healing and wholeness, ethical issues and legal aspects, family violence, grief, care coordination and more. The basic curriculum is offered at more than 130 nursing schools worldwide and may be completed in as little as 35 hours.
In a typical day, a parish nurse may visit a congregation member at home to check the member’s blood pressure and monitor his med intake. The nurse will likely also pray with the patient and ask about any other stressors in the patient’s life. Later in the day, the nurse may collaborate with parish staff to plan a church-wide health education program. She may also develop support groups for parish members, including loss or disease-specific groups. Parish nurses also help train volunteers to visit and assist parish members in their homes and work to connect their parish community to health resources in the larger community as well.
Many parish nurses practice as volunteers; they receive no payment for their services. These nurses consider their practice a ministry, a way to use their healthcare skills to help the congregation. A minority (less than a third) of parish nurses are employed by their religious congregation.