A Sticky Situation?

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I'm starting my first semester of a 2-year diploma at the end of August, and I've just started receiving all my textbooks for class. Out of curiousity I started reading in my big Nursing Theory textbook today. I came to the chapter on "spirituality". The chapter is about understanding differnet religions and how that can affect a patient and family's views on healthcare (so far, so good) but then it talked about how a nurse should help patients with respect to spirituality and how to "evaluate your own relationship with god".

I'm an atheist and always have been. I'm perfectly comfortable with not believing in any gods or supernatural things, and it's not something I ever talk about with people because it has zero affect on my life anyway (plus it's nobody's business). I certainly wouldn't be comfortable discussing religion/spirituality with patients, nor would I be comfortable having all my fellow students and professors know that I don't believe in any gods (again, I'm not ashamed, it's just nobody else's business).

How often do matters of religion & spirituality really come into play in Nursing School? In clinicals, with patients? What can I expect? How should I handle it if somebody asks me flat-out if I believe in Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Yahweh, etc? I don't want to make patients uncomfortable or alienate myself...


46 Posts

All you have to do is respect your patient's beliefs,...even if they don't believe the same thing you do. You will run into people with different beliefs and thoughts and your job as a nurse is to give the patient their respect. They will teach this to you in your first semester. All religious and cultural groups have different practices on their lifestyles and health practices. You will be taught different methods of communication with patients and how to handle these types of situations. You will do just fine!

Hi i'm muslim and we have dicussions about religion in almost all our classes.When anyone ask me about my religion i tell them.If they make false assumptions i correct them but we do it in a professional way.I respect their beliefs and opinions and they respect mine.I've never had to dicuss religion with a patient but if it comes down to it i would just say something like it's not really important what i believe right now.I hear to help you in any way i can or something like that.Well hope someone else can shed some light on this topic.

Daytonite, BSN, RN

1 Article; 14,603 Posts

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt.

being respectful of another person's religion or spiritual beliefs doesn't include having to talk with them about your own opinions on the matter. if you don't want to discuss your religious beliefs with anyone, don't. no one is going to force you. as for people who are bold enough to ask you about your religious or spiritual beliefs, tactfully redirect the conversation back to them without giving them an answer. as nurses we need to be therapeutic and get the patient talking about themself. discussing our personal selves with patients is nonproductive and usually has little to do with helping the patient or getting information from them that will help us figure out more about the problems that they have. talking about our personal beliefs with patients is often unprofessional. talking about our personal beliefs with colleagues is a choice. just don't do it if you don't want to. i don't and no one has alienated me yet. and if it does, who cares? if someone decides to not like me because i won't tell them about my religious beliefs the heck with them.


51 Posts

Kindly say that you are here to help them and its not important what your religious beliefs are. You really want to advoid this at all cost! Its a very very touchy thing with patients. My family always told me to say the following "I'm sorry, Its against our policy to talk about my personal beliefs, but if you would like, I can help you find a preacher (or whatever they call a spiritual advisor)"

I find that to be a really easy and kind way of getting around it. I have been advised even if they have the same beliefs, not to discuss them because you are taking your focus off of what you should be doing (especially as a student)

Hope this helps :)

Specializes in LTC.

You don't have to believe or indulge in someones religion however you must respect their beliefs. You don't have to pray or chant with a patient if you don't feel comfortable, if they ask just request a chaplain or something. In nursing we are not to focus on our beliefs anyway the main focus is the patient. So if the patient asks you a questions regarding your beliefs you should redirect the question towards them. Hope this helps.


267 Posts

Thank you everyone for your answers - it was very helpful and I feel a lot better. The book talks about keeping the focus on the patient but it didn't get quite so specific about this kind of situation as you all did. I'll keep your advice in mine when I start my clinicals!

Nepenthe Sea

585 Posts

Specializes in PICU/Pedi.

I worry about this too. I live in a very religous area, where it is not uncommon for someone to just ask you your religous beliefs. In class, our instructors have talked about praying with patients, and told us that it is okay to do that if they ask. Problem for me is that I am Pagan. I DO pray, but do you think anyone's going to want me to pray with them if they know that? I agree that it is nobody's business, and I wouldn't feel all that comfortable explaining my beliefs, since most people automatically think that Pagan = ANTI-Christian (it does not). I have read that there are studies showing that prayer and meditation can help patients to heal, so I can see that it is an important factor. I am somewhat comfortable in joining other people in prayer and ritual. I hope I can just leave it at that.

allnurses Guide

JBudd, MSN

3,836 Posts

Specializes in Trauma, Teaching.

A simple "I prefer to keep my personal life separate from my professional life" will answer most patients' inqueries. If they persist, offer to find the hospital chaplain.

It sounds like you have already done what the book said, know yourself and your beliefs. Its the people who haven't thought through their own beliefs that have trouble coping with other's problems/situations. Being grounded and secure, comfortable with yourself is what they (the authors) are driving at.


tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN

83 Articles; 5,923 Posts

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

hello haikucatlady. welcome to allnurses.

in regards to addressing the spiritual needs of patients... all patients have spiritual needs. spiritual needs do not necessarily equate to religious needs. these needs do need to be assessed. in the united states, joint commission on accreditation of healthcare organizations (jcaho) requires that a spiritual assessment be completed on every patient. because nurses work closely with the sick and dying, they often find themselves called upon to address a patient’s spiritual needs. at the same time, they may be concerned about the appropriateness of such activities, as well as have questions on how to proceed. although not all nurses feel comfortable providing spiritual care in all situations, they should be sensitive to the spiritual needs of their patients.

many nurses feel both comfortable and confident in engaging in spiritual care activities such as praying with patients and listening to spiritual concerns. these activities may be appropriately carried out by the nurse only if acceptable to the patient and the family. in order to provide respectful care, it is necessary to refrain from using the clinical setting or professional authority to promote any type of religion or particular spiritual practices.

when a patient is faced with a health crisis, he or she may seek spiritual nourishment, even if this has not been a typical part of the person’s day-to-day life. patients who are members of a particular faith tradition, and those who are not, may want prayer or other forms of spiritual activities to be part of the care they receive from health care professionals. or they may not. either way, health care professionals who want to provide spiritually nurturing and ethically sensitive care need to think carefully about the place of spiritual care in professional service.

chaplains should not be the only providers of spiritual care for patients and their families. much of the spiritual and religious support comes from other people, including parish nurses, clergy, family and friends of patients, volunteers representing different faith communities or congregations, and others. although their personal spiritual beliefs may differ from those of the patient, medical staff can also address the spiritual needs of the patient. all medical personnel (believers and non-believers alike) must not let their personal beliefs get in the way of providing quality care for all of the patient's needs.....including spiritual needs.

you can find more discussion about spiritual needs of patients in the following allnurses staff blogs.

the nurse's role in providing spiritual care -is it ok to pray?

who is responsible for discussing end-of-life treatment options?

spiritual beliefs and end of life care

self-assessment of your beliefs about death and dying


901 Posts

I am 3/4 done with my 2 yr program and religion has not been an issue for me whatsoever (as in nobody has asked me to pray with them or brought up God or their beliefs). I think you are worrying about something that won't even come up, or if it does, you will figure out how to handle it in a way that is respectful to your patient and yourself.


tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN

83 Articles; 5,923 Posts

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

The OP is right to be concerned about this. It is better to think about what to do before you get in this situation. You wouldn't wait until a patient experiences a medical crisis to just figure out how to handle it. You read and study about medical interventions. You should give the same importance to spiritual crisis intervention. You need to think about before it happens. This is an important part of providing for all of the patient's needs......emotional, psychological, physical, and, spiritual.

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