Parish Nursing: A Variety of Roles

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    In this article the author tells a story of one encounter and goes on to describe more of what a Parish Nurse does on a day-to-day basis.

    Parish Nursing: A Variety of Roles

    I turned off the car and sat in Linda's driveway for a few minutes, collecting my thoughts before going on in to make what I knew would be my last visit. I had been her Parish Nurse for several years, and accompanied her through her husband's illness and death, through her own cancer diagnosis and treatment and finally her admission to hospice.

    Her attentive daughter let me in and steered me to the chair beside the hospital bed which sat in the middle of the living room, facing her favorite window and the bird feeder outside. She handed me a box of tissues and said, "People that sit there usually need those."

    I took the tissue gratefully and with the other hand grasped Linda's which she held outstretched to me. She tried to whisper and I leaned in close. She kissed my cheek and said, "I love you." I told her that I loved her too. Her eyes cleared from the fog of death for a minute and she looked over toward her daughter and repeated, "I love you," and then back at me again, "I love you."

    Through smiles and tears and even laughter, we repeated the words back and forth.

    Linda and I had walked a long way on the road of life. Parish Nurses sometimes have the privilege of being the ones to accompany their congregants through many phases of acute and chronic illness, their own and that of their family's and friends. Sometimes, by being professional nurses in the church, we are able to give information, to be advocates, and to serve as a referral source.

    Parish Nursing, also known as Faith Community Nursing started in the mid-1980's when a chaplain named Grainger Westberg had a vision for nurses working in a cooperative relationship with the church to promote health, encourage wellness and care for those in need. From there the concept has grown to involved several thousand nurses of various backgrounds and numerous denominations.

    So what exactly do Parish Nurses do?

    The variety is truly endless but when people ask me, I try to describe it like this: the Parish Nurse blends the roles of a minister of visitation, a case manager, a social worker and a nurse.

    * Visitor:

    Depending on the particular congregation, the nurse makes the types of visits described in this story, as well as visits to check on members who are grieving or who have a new baby or who have a new diagnosis. Contacts can be as formal as appointment times in the office or the home or as casual as hall consultations, text messages and email.

    * Connector:

    A Parish Nurse many times is the "bridge" that puts people who have a need together with people who can fill that need, whether is it caregiving, food, transportation or information. She/he can serve as a project manager, putting in place and administering programs to keep the church family active-walking or hiking programs, sports teams, classes on healthy eating, ideas about using pedometers and fit bits, etc.

    *Source of Information:

    With so much information available via the internet, the Parish Nurse can become a go-to person for deciding what is important and what is not. When a new diagnosis comes, a Parish Nurse can help spread calm where there is fear and perspective where there is loss of vision.

    *Transition Expert:

    By working with the local hospital, the nurse can help visit members and their families while they are ill and prepare for the transition to home or to the next facility. Often the Parish Nurse has visited a number of local facilities and is able to offer personal insights that can help set minds at ease. At times, the Congregational Care Nurse knows what equipment might be helpful to have in the home at the time of discharge and those small things-having that shower chair ready or getting the assistive bedrail-can make the transition smoother for everyone.


    The Parish Nurse can advocate for their parishioners. When serious illness strikes or major decisions loom ahead, the professional nurse serving in the church can be a sounding board and a source of clarity in the midst of confusion. When needed, he/she can attend a doctor's appointment or a care meeting at a nursing home.

    So who pays?

    While explaining Parish Nursing, I often get this question. Many are volunteers in their own congregations and do it on a part-time basis; others are on staff at their churches and receive a stipend; and still others are employed by hospitals in partnership with their communities. A very few are full-time and paid salaries that are similar to regular nursing salaries.

    After about ten minutes, I prayed with Linda, gently squeezed her hand and rose to conclude my visit. Following me to the door, her daughter said, "Isn't it wonderful that when everything is stripped away, that is what she says? It's the only thing she keeps saying to me and to everyone that comes. I love you. What beautiful words."

    I thought to myself, I hope those are my last words, too.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 15, '18
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    About jeastridge

    Joy is a part time Parish Nurse and also a hospice nurse. She loves to walk outside, cook for her growing family and cultivate friendships.

    Joined: Jan '15; Posts: 342; Likes: 1,167

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  3. by   Nurse195829
    I am 58 and have held a nursing license for35 years, but I stopped working in 2004 due to health concerns. My body is fragile, but I think I could be a parish nurse. How would I go about introducing this concept at my church?
    Jeanne Joseph
  4. by   tnbutterfly
    As a Parish Nurse myself for 16 years, I suggest doing some research to see if there are any organizations (hospitals, health systems, churches) in your area affiliated with Parish Nursing programs. It will be easier for you to introduce this to your church if you find an organization to partner with.

    As always, thank you Joy for a great informative article about Parish Nursing - one of the hidden gems in the nursing profession.
  5. by   jeastridge
    Quote from Nurse195829
    I am 58 and have held a nursing license for35 years, but I stopped working in 2004 due to health concerns. My body is fragile, but I think I could be a parish nurse. How would I go about introducing this concept at my church?
    Jeanne Joseph
    Hi Jeanne, I hope you will pursue this idea. Parish Nursing can be so rewarding. Starting out, you might mention it to your pastor/priest and gauge how receptive he/she might be to the concept. If you get a green light there, then consider affiliating with a Parish Nurse group near you or take an on line introductory course to get you started. All the best! Joy