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Nursing and Spirituality

Has 2 years experience. Specializes in Cardiac.

Hey, everyone. I'm a first year nursing student in a BSN program and I just wanted to share a concern of mine. I've been reading two of my textbooks ("Fundamentals of Nursing" and "Physical Examination & Health Assessment") and am moderately surprised by the importance they each place on religion and spirituality, especially in regards to the patient. They make it out as though the spirituality of the patient is something that needs to be assessed and nourished when needed and that as a nurse, I am expected to be spiritual myself and understand the patient's religious needs. My problem with this is that I'm an atheist. I'm neither spiritual nor religious in the very least. I'm slightly offended by the fact that in the chapters devoted to spirituality, atheists are hardly mentioned, if at all. It makes it seem as though I'm missing a vital component of nursing and that believers make better nurses. I'm concerned by this because I don't want to have to compromise my beliefs (or lack thereof). How am I to relate to a patient spiritually when I myself am not spiritual? Don't get me wrong; I'm a respectful person and in no way do I infringe upon other people's beliefs. However, I don't view the spirit as something physiologically possible nor relevant. I aspire to be a nurse, not a priest or a rabbi or a shaman. I would be willing to go above and beyond for my (future) patient's, but I wouldn't expect someone to go against their beliefs for me. As a nurse, should I expect to have to pretend to be religious for the sake of my patients? If a patient asks me to pray with him or asks why God has "punished" him, am I allowed to reveal myself as an atheist? Of course I'm allowed to believe what I want and won't be forced to pray with a patient, but would it be in my best interest to do so? Some people may not think it's a big deal for an atheist to pretend to pray but it's the equivalent of asking a Roman Catholic to pray to Allah. It just isn't the most comfortable situation to be in. Not only that, but I don't enjoy the fact that these textbooks make it seem as though I wouldn't be as qualified as nurses with some sort of belief. I apologize for the ramble, but this is just something I needed to talk about and what better place than here :D? I'd appreciate any and all responses. Thanks!

Annisme

Has 3 years experience. Specializes in med/surg, ER.

You have very legitimate concerns about patient's spirituality and their expectations...you also have the right to not participate. If someone were to ask why God is punishing them, "I don't know" and asking if there is a spiritual advisor they would like you to contact is appropriate, IMHO. If someone were to ask you to pray with them, you can decline and make the same offer to contact someone for them.

As a Christian, I respect the rights of my patients and co-workers to their own beliefs or lack thereof. Just as what I believe is important to me and is a part of my well-being, including my physical health, what you believe is important to you and is a part of who you are.

What the textbooks are pointing out is that spiritual beliefs may be important to the individual. By respecting those beliefs, you will no doubt succeed! Please, do not feel pressured to be someone you are not. Just as it is up to me if I reveal my Christianity, it is up to you to reveal your Atheism. What is required of a nurse is to care for their patients. Obviously, you do care or you wouldn't be concerned about this. Spirituality does not make someone a better nurse, caring about your patients, being their advocate, and all the other things we do, is what makes one a better nurse.

Nursing school is hard enough without the added burden of this worry.

By the way, it sounds like you are using the same textbooks we use in the BSN program I am in...CSUS.:coollook:

I hope this makes sense, I've been working nights and am trying to get back into a day schedule (not very successfully!)

Take care,

Ann

icyounurse, BSN, RN

Specializes in MICU, SICU, PACU, Travel nursing.

You can be spiritual and therapeutic without necessarily letting your religious beliefs drive your care. There is no certain religion that has the patent on spirituality.

northshore08

Specializes in Emergency, outpatient.

I agree with Annisme. You don't have to believe what your patients believe to be supportive of their spiritual expression. For me, I feel it is important to help pts express their spirituality. If a Buddhist asks me to pray with them, I do not feel they want ME the Christian nurse; they are looking for support. So I stay and bow my head quietly. (If they ask me to pray for them, I offer other options.) I will help patients obtain and use any religious equipment they want, whether I believe in the use or not (rosaries, prayer shawls, texts, holy water, statues, etc.) That search usually leads to finding priests/monks/teachers of some kind as well.

In my practice in the ED things happen quickly. Patients will grab your hand in crisis and ask spiritual questions. I am honest if they ask if I believe in life after death, and try to steer the conversation to allow them to answer their own questions. I find that most times patients want to talk to someone, not with someone. (The listening is the thing.) And then I go get the hospital chaplain or another nurse who shares their belief system.

Do some research concerning the connection between nursing and spirituality, and to research how spirituality and religious belief affects health and healing. If you find you are are uncomfortable in spiritual/religious situations, you will always be avoiding that with your patients. Work it out now, so you will know what your actions will be when the situation arises.

(My DH was a nurse's aide for a short time on a med surg floor. His response to your post was "figure it out now, 'cause it will for sure happen! It happened to me a lot!")

Good luck in your studies! :heartbeat

Woodenpug, BSN

Specializes in MPCU.

I had texts with similar sounding titles. My impression, or faulty memory, is that spirituality is the belief that one's life has meaning and purpose. I would think good nursing would support that belief. So, yeah, spirituality is important in nursing.

Baloney Amputation, BSN, LPN, RN

Specializes in LTC, Acute Care.

You are a spiritual creature. I too am an atheist and see the purpose of my life, that gut-grabbing awe and certainty and oneness with the world with various situations. Often it comes from the entirely satifying life I have with my family. Other times it is the appreciation of the beauty of the world. Spirituality is for everyone, regardless of religiosity. It is also different for everyone.

I certainly have been asked point blank what religion I practice. I am well aware that saying what I am point blank is an invite to who knows what. Not everyone looks on atheists keenly out of ignorance, I imagine. Anyway, I always respond, "I don't discuss my religious beliefs at work" in a neutral tone. In my experience, this does not shut down the opportunity for the person asking me that question to discuss his or her religiosity. They just talk anyway, and I just keep the discussion focused on him or her, which is what I'm supposed to do.

If someone asks if god is punishing them, I would probably ask a patient-directed question like, "What do you think?"

queenjean

Has 9 years experience.

I agree, the texts are telling you that spirituality, religion and culture can be very important to pts.

I'm also an atheist, but I see myself as a thoughtful, spiritual person. Maybe a humanist? ;)

If you feel in over your head, you call in the reserves--namely, the hospital chaplain or the pt's spiritual advisor.

I do a lot of things I don't agree with in nursing--I give life-prolonging drugs, for example, to people who I don't think have any quality of life and should be allowed to die. But that is the decision they or their decision-makers have made, and I will respect this.

If a person asks me to pray with them, I simply bow my head. If they ask me to actually speak, I tell them I'm uncomfortable with that, but that I'd be happy to read a bible verse of their choice to them, or have the chaplain come pray with them. I rarely have a pt ask about my religion. I think most assume I am Christian--fine by me, it doesn't matter one way or the other. In the few rare instances when a pt has asked me where I go to church or what religion I am (or if I have accepted our saviour the lord Jesus Christ into my life....), I just say something like "I'm pretty private about my religious beliefs, " and then I turn the conversation around and ask them something else. I've never had anyone push it.

I've had people ask me to pray with them from just about every major and several minor religions--I don't have a problem with that. My prayer is usually something like "Hope you get better soon." Or "Hope I can control your pain." or something benign like that. I really do try to think some positive thoughts, not just go over what I need to do next, or think about supper or something.

Spirituality is a need. You have to try to meet those needs, within reason. Usually it is as simple as giving them some privacy when their family and/or spiritual advisor is with them. Sometimes it may extend to asking if they need to see the chaplain, or if you can call their spiritual advisor for them. Rarely does it involve you actively participating, but sometimes it does.

It seems that some people here who are Christian pray all the time with their pts and often discuss religion. I don't personally encounter these religious situations often. Maybe because I'm not looking for them? Maybe because I tend to steer that part of conversations unconsciously away from involving myself? Maybe because I am the queen of neutral, benign statements? Who knows?

mpccrn, BSN, RN

Has 30 years experience. Specializes in ICU.

as i nurse, you are there to meet your patients needs.....be they physical, mental or spiritual. patients under your care are often at their most vulnerable. if looking to "god" is a way they find comforting, it has little to do with your beliefs....it's theirs. when i'm in a room with a patient in a downward spiral and a priest, minister, rabbi, whatever steps in to pray with the patient, i merely stand quietly, bow my head and let them do their thing. it in no way reflects my beliefs, nor is it about me. if a patient asks me to pray with them, i will bow my head and hold their hands. again, it's their beliefs not necessarily mine. it's not different than giving them a bath, meds, or putting in a foley. it's about them, not my comfort level. you can believe or not believe. it's not about you. :smokin:

SweetTeaRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in ER.

Although I am a somewhat spiritual person, I do not for the most part feel comfortable with patients who feel like it is important to include me in their spirituality (even if we were to share similar beliefs.) I feel like it is important to allow the patient the freedom to discuss with me their spiritual beliefs but I do not let the focus shift to me. Ditto to the others' answers the question, "why is God punishing me?"...I would likely say something like, "what do you think?" I have walked in patient rooms before where the patient and visitors are holding hands and praying out loud and I just quietly walk out and wait. I have never had a patient ask me to pray with them, but I like the answer about just bowing your head silently without needing to participate. I imagine that this would be much more of an issue in some areas of nursing than others, but this is something I have only had to deal with very rarely in the ED so far. I do feel like you must have some spirituality to be a nurse but I do not feel like this needs to be an exchange between patient and nurse unless you feel comfortable with that. Religiosity is completely separate in my book.

Hey, everyone. I'm a first year nursing student in a BSN program and I just wanted to share a concern of mine. I've been reading two of my textbooks ("Fundamentals of Nursing" and "Physical Examination & Health Assessment") and am moderately surprised by the importance they each place on religion and spirituality, especially in regards to the patient. They make it out as though the spirituality of the patient is something that needs to be assessed and nourished when needed and that as a nurse, I am expected to be spiritual myself and understand the patient's religious needs.

As a nurse you are there to meet physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, as possible within your own limitations. You will find some pt's who are very spiritual or religious, and their needs certainly need to be met. Some religions have requirements as to what sex must care for the pt, or what procedures can or can't be done. That's why they're teaching this to you now.

My problem with this is that I'm an atheist. I'm neither spiritual nor religious in the very least. I'm slightly offended by the fact that in the chapters devoted to spirituality, atheists are hardly mentioned, if at all. It makes it seem as though I'm missing a vital component of nursing and that believers make better nurses. I'm concerned by this because I don't want to have to compromise my beliefs (or lack thereof).

I agree, you shouldn't have to compromise your beliefs, and I doubt that you will ever be asked to. You just need a basic understanding of their beliefs and how to interact with them.

How am I to relate to a patient spiritually when I myself am not spiritual? Don't get me wrong; I'm a respectful person and in no way do I infringe upon other people's beliefs. However, I don't view the spirit as something physiologically possible nor relevant.

You can relate, just as you would relate to a woman in labor even if you've never had a child. Or a pt missing limbs, even tho you have never underwent an amputation. That's empathy, and it'll come to you in time. They can't teach that in school, even tho I'm sure you'll also cover that in the future.

I aspire to be a nurse, not a priest or a rabbi or a shaman. I would be willing to go above and beyond for my (future) patient's, but I wouldn't expect someone to go against their beliefs for me.

Just the fact that you're concerned about your interaction with spirituality tells me you will probably make a fine nurse.

As a nurse, should I expect to have to pretend to be religious for the sake of my patients? If a patient asks me to pray with him or asks why God has "punished" him, am I allowed to reveal myself as an atheist? Of course I'm allowed to believe what I want and won't be forced to pray with a patient, but would it be in my best interest to do so?

Just be professional in this case, and do what you're comfortable with. No one will expect you to bend your beliefs to what your pt believes.

Some people may not think it's a big deal for an atheist to pretend to pray but it's the equivalent of asking a Roman Catholic to pray to Allah. It just isn't the most comfortable situation to be in. Not only that, but I don't enjoy the fact that these textbooks make it seem as though I wouldn't be as qualified as nurses with some sort of belief. I apologize for the ramble, but this is just something I needed to talk about and what better place than here :D? I'd appreciate any and all responses. Thanks!

I think you'll learn what's expected and your texts will become clearer when they're covered in class. We learned alot of this stuff in school, and had no idea how it would effect our nursing care until we got out and actually worked as nurses. As nurses, we care for the "whole" person, psych, physical, and spiritual needs. You'll realize the relevance when you get out on the floor.

I was one of the few Catholics working at a Jewish run facility, and believe me, I learned alot about the Jewish faith. It certainly helped me better address my pt's needs, and I'm certain that it helped me grow as a nurse. No one asked me to convert, but I learned ALOT and it broadened my personal horizons. Just don't get upset yet, until you cover it in class and see how your instructors explain how it will relate to your career. Also, I agree, your spirituality has nothing to do with how good a nurse you are, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Best of luck, you'll make a fine nurse soon!

Great post, JohnBearPA.

Additionally you might to view a patient's spirituality as a part of culturally relevant data. You will not be asked to change cultures, just accept them.

Best of luck, you sound like you have morality, ethics and respect which are extremely important.

vlmusicalsound, BSN, RN

Has 2 years experience. Specializes in Cardiac.

I would go around thanking and responding to everyone individually but that would take hours, so thank you to everyone! All of your answers have been extremely helpful and insightful. Thanks again!

I had texts with similar sounding titles. My impression, or faulty memory, is that spirituality is the belief that one's life has meaning and purpose. I would think good nursing would support that belief. So, yeah, spirituality is important in nursing.

I hope it is just your memory because that is an astonishingly one sided definition. I am an unabashed atheists. That statement implies that my lack of spirituality means that my life has no meaning or purpose. I can assure you that I am FAR from that!.

Baloney Amputation, BSN, LPN, RN

Specializes in LTC, Acute Care.

I hope it is just your memory because that is an astonishingly one sided definition. I am an unabashed atheists. That statement implies that my lack of spirituality means that my life has no meaning or purpose. I can assure you that I am FAR from that!.

Spirituality does NOT equal religious belief or belief in a deity or higher power. For many it does. However, one can appear to be religious and not be spiritual. I think the fact that you have, by your own account, meaning and purpose in your life means that you probably have a healthy dose of spirituality running through you.

Lorie P.

Specializes in Med/Surge, Private Duty Peds.

spirituality does not equal religious belief or belief in a deity or higher power. :yeah:

for many it does. however, one can appear to be religious and not be spiritual. :yeah::yeah:

i think the fact that you have, by your own account, meaning and purpose in your life means that you probably have a healthy dose of spirituality running through you.

you said this very well, thank you!!

I guess I'm either the biggest hypocrite on earth or just old.

I am an atheist. I believe that we're all we've got, and we owe it to one another to be kind. If someone wants me to pray with them I say, "Sure. Do you have a particular one you like?" If they ask me if I think there's a Heaven and I see their worn Bible in their hands I say, "Of course." If they tell me they're fasting because it's Ramadan I ask if their Imam would excuse them for illness. If they tell me they're frightened I ask why, and if they believe in Heaven. If they say yes I ask them to describe it for me, and tell them their loved ones are waiting for them there.

I just don't give a darn about *my* beliefs in these situations. It's all about providing comfort to these suffering souls - oops, folks.

Really, at that point, what the heck does it matter? It's not like I'm telling the Dover School District to replace teaching evolution with creationism. I'm soothing someone in pain.

northshore08

Specializes in Emergency, outpatient.

Suesquatch, that is a great post.

vlmusical, quite a few nursing theorists discuss spirituality; I think your early nursing school texts are preparing you to hear about them. Look up Martha Rogers and Virginia Henderson; Fay Abdellah and Jean Watson; also Callista Roy (even though she is a nun) and Margaret Newman.

:typing

But then, this was never about you, it was always about the pt. Your believes or non-believes were never in question.

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