A Day in the Life of a Parish Nurse (aka Faith Community Nurse)

by jeastridge jeastridge, BSN, RN (Trusted Brand)

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

The author describes a typical day in her life as a Parish Nurse. If you ever wonder what a PN does, this article may help you learn more!

How do you get started in Parish Nursing?

A Day in the Life of a Parish Nurse (aka Faith Community Nurse)

The doors to the ICU swung open as I swiped my badge and I took a deep breath before stepping forward to face Jane and her family. An elderly woman, 90+, Jane faced day 7 on a vent in the ICU after a serious bout with pneumonia. I greeted her son who sat quietly at her bedside, by now impervious to the low key but constant whirr and beep of the machinery that worked to keep his mom alive. After greeting him, I stepped over to take Jane’s flaccid and swollen hand in mine and greeted her, too.

Talking with the son, he related the events of the past 24 hours. He emphasized that the doctors assured him she was “stable” and “not suffering.” Despite her advance directive that stated her preferred wishes not to be intubated, when the time came, she was lucid and changed her mind, giving hurried permission for interventional care.

After talking a while, I brought up the idea of talking with the doctor about having a Palliative Care Consult. Emphasizing that this was something the doctor would have to order if she thought it was appropriate, I described the possible perspective they might bring to the overall picture. During our conversation, his internist came in and said, “I have put in for a Palliative Care Consult” clearly seeing the same picture that we were and thinking it might be time to pause and consider how to move forward.

After prayer and a moment with scripture, I went on to see others in the hospital before heading over to the church where I have an office. Seeing patients in the ICU is not an everyday occurrence but does happen with a fair degree of regularity. In that environment, the Parish Nurse can serve as a spiritual support person, an interpreter for medical terminology and procedures and a liaison between the family and the staff, especially if difficulties arise.

At the church, I briefly checked email and made a note to call Mr. S back about his grief. Having lost his wife of 57 years just a few short months ago, Mr. S told me he felt adrift; one of the things a Parish Nurse can do is help cast out lines of communication and connection, helping him find new ways to anchor himself —social activities, service opportunities, and spiritual comfort.

I prepared a devotional thought before going to a Caregiver’s Support Group and sharing an hour with them. Meeting once a month, the group of a dozen or so people helps one another through the thick and thin of caregiving, discussing different topics each month and sometimes even having special speakers from nearby facilities.

After a quick lunch at my desk, I joined a weekly meeting with the pastors on congregational care, discussing how we could best address the needs of our members who were going through a variety of crisis. We usually assigned one designated person to be in charge of responding to a particular need, then bring the others in as was necessary.

After the meeting, I spent the afternoon returning phone calls, checking on people who were post-op, making notes after each phone call or contact, and working on coordinating some of our outreach ministries: prayer shawls, frozen casseroles, cards, and birthday visits to our “At Home” members.

One of the beautiful things about Parish Nursing is that there is not a “typical” day. Every day is different and some more challenging than others. What I have described above could stand as a representative sample of what happens many days. As members of the church staff, Parish Nurses work closely with pastors, collaborating in the wholistic care of their parishioners: body, mind and spirit.

Parish Nursing, begun in the 1980s by Grainger Westburg, is a place where nurses can find new ways to use their skills. While my position is a regular part-time position and I receive a small stipend for my work, many Faith Community Nurses are volunteers who work just a few hours a week, checking blood pressures on Sundays and answering questions or making phone calls. There are a number of definitions of Parish Nursing, but they all include most of the following, “A Parish Nurse is a registered nurse with specialized knowledge who is called to ministry and affirmed by a faith community to promote health, healing and wholeness. The role of the parish nurse is to promote the integration of faith and health in a variety of ways that reflect the context of the faith community. Specific examples include: health advocacy, health counseling, health education and resource referral (http://www.capnm.ca/fact_sheet.htm )”

If you are interested in being a Parish Nurse, how do you get started? First and foremost you will need to have the support of your church’s leadership to work in this capacity. Talk with your congregation’s governing body and gauge their support. If you feel led to continue after that, you can take an online course in becoming a Parish Nurse to better prepare yourself. You can also seek out other Parish Nurses in your area. Nationally, the Westburg Institute serves as the unifying organization for FCNs, holding an annual symposium, publishing articles and books and providing visionary leadership.

After a busy afternoon, I snapped my computer closed, double checked my calendar for the next day and got ready to meet a girlfriend for a walk in the spring sunshine, feeling blessed to be able to be a nurse in a church.

Joy has been a Parish Nurse for over 20 years. In her time off she enjoys taking long walks, reading great biographies and playing with her grandchildren.

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1 Comment(s)


traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 30 years experience. 164 Articles; 21,186 Posts

Very cool job. I can see maybe doing this as a retirement job....Thanks for the look-see