A Sticky Situation?

Nursing Students General Students


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...

you don't have to believe the same way as your patients, however, you must always respect their beliefs, as it is an inherent part of their being. just as a christian nurse must refrain from bringing up her beliefs, and athiest or pagan nurse must refrain from it as well.

spirituality does not always mean religion, though religion can play a part in it. my husband for example is from an american indian background and he has a love of nature and believes in the value of life be it plants (even weeds he has a problem with my weed killer), animals, or humans. for him having green plants around indoors gives him comfort. for me, i do not involve myself actively in organized religion, though i consider myself very spiritual and i wear a small delicate cross, that reminds me of what i base my spirituality on. for a patient i had one time who was of a jewish background and devout follower of judaism, part of her spiritual assessment regarded her diet being kosher.

i don't have a problem with patients wanting to hold my hand while they pray to whomever. i do not have to pray the same way they do, or out loud. if my being there while they do, closing my eyes out of respect for the patient, and holding my hand gives them comfort that is the best thing i can do for them.

the only thing that comes to mind when it could be a problem for you, is if you were to find yourself in a hospital setting associated with a religious order or church, like my sil works in. it is a 7th day adventist associated facility and they pray before and after each shift for healing for their patients and for guidance in their choices in care. their hospital also doesn't serve meat. i don't know if prayer is a requirement for them or not. she and my brother live on the west coast, and we don't get to talk too much.

When we studied this last semester, I had one instructor who gave some pretty good advice in these situations, and trust me, as a class, we threw everything we could think of at her. Here are a couple of the things she told us.

  • If you have a patient that is seeking religion, offer to call a clergy member in to speak with them.

  • If they are praying and insist that you pray with them, this is really your call. If it doesn't bother you to bow your head and be present while they pray, then go ahead and do it, if it does bother you, excuse yourself. You can always say that you are needed in another patients room - just do this respectfully.

The only situation that she was a little unsure of, was if a patient asks about your religion. Her reason for this was that even if you are open and honest about your beliefs, it may not be ok with your institution for you to talk to patients about it. She told us to see what the policy is at your institution and when all else fails, just offer the clergy member.

I think that it basically just comes down to respecting your patient and their religion of choice. The books always talk about exploring your own religion - I've had the same opinion on religion my whole life and my nursing book is not going to change that. I'm not really sure why they put that in there, although I am sure it has some sort of reasoning behind it. Just don't worry about it too much and learn what you can from it. I have many friends and family that are already in the field and they said that you develop your own methods for dealing with the religion and spirituality questions and still being respectful.

Just keep in mind the aspects that impact how you care for the patient. That's my take on it.

Specializes in Neuro.

I agree, it's respect that is the key. I understand the issues with sprirtuality in nursing. I am Catholic, but when my professor announced that Jesus "laid his hands on [her] daughters body and healed her" I gigglesnorted. I was tremendously uncomfortable. I wasn't uncomfortable with her discussing her beliefs, but it seemed like preaching and it was during a scientific discussion.

You will have to be comfortable with people discussing their beliefs, but you don't have to listen to preaching, nor do you have to participate in any spiritual activity you are uncomfortable with.

However, the way I figure it, I am willing to do alot to give my patients peace and help them feel more comfortable. If that includes sitting with them, praying with them or letting them discuss their spirituality or beliefs with me so be it. It seems like a small thing I can do that may comfort them greatly. You don't have to pray with them if you don't want to, but you can sit with them while they pray. But every nurse has to make that call for themselves.


I saw that you attend CHSON and I wanted to find out more info. if possible. I have 30 credits in liberal arts to transfer over if they accept it. I want to know how hard it is to get in and what I should expect. So far I have sent in my transcripts and application for review and registered for the NLN March 15th and I have been reviewing the book. What do they look for and what can I do to make my chances of entrance better besides the obvious of a good score on the NLN. I would appreciate any feedback you have!


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