Published Jul 27, 2016
I am a hospice nurse. As you can imagine, religion and spirituality play a big part in the lives of many of my patients and families, and I try very hard to honor that. Oftentimes they will share their beliefs with me and nod respectfully and listen as part of therapeutic communication and supporting their process.
The other day I worked closely with a Christian family. They were playing religious music in the room all day. At times they would be praying when I went in, so I stepped out and let them finish. The patient had declined rapidly over my shift and I was closely supporting the family through that. As I was about to leave work I went in to say my goodbyes, and I said something like "It's been so nice to work with and serve such a beautiful family. You will be in my thoughts." Its a common thing for a hospice nurse to say. I was not coming back to this unit and would not see them again. The spouse then asked me, "Are you Christian?" I have never had anyone ask this before and it took me off-guard. I said I was close to God and very spiritual, but not church-going.
The thing is, I'm not Christian. And I was not sure how to answer this very personal question in a way that kept the focus on the patient, and protected my own personal spirituality and privacy without sounding rude. Any suggestions on a good way to answer this in the future?
dishes, BSN, RN
Is it possible that when you said 'it was nice to work with and serve such a beautiful family' the family construed your message to mean serve as a christian?
bugya90, ASN, BSN, LVN, RN
I think your answer of being very spiritual was appropriate. Maybe I'm a spiritual person and I'm glad your wife has found peace through her beliefs in prayer. This was it brings the focus back to the patient.
anon456, BSN, RN
Yes you are right!
I like that suggestion
I usually go with something like, "I don't find it helpful to talk about my personal beliefs at work" (said in a friendly tone of voice, not sounding like I'm offended in any way that they asked).
How do you guys deal with your coworkers about this topic?
They may have thought you were identifying with them because of your comment about serving such a beautiful family. I think your response was very appropriate and eloquent, especially given how wrong footed being in that situation feels.
I had one patient (also hospice) who kept asking if I was a Lutheran - he seemed very concerned about having been a "good Lutheran" and I think was looking for confirmation of his values. I eventually told him that I wasn't a Lutheran, and wasn't sure what made one a good Lutheran or not, but that I could ask one of our chaplains to come in and discuss these thoughts with him. He then kept pressuring me about my religious background. I kept trying to redirect back to his thoughts on things, but he was very persistent. I ultimately ended up revealing more about myself than I typically do to get him to back off - normally I say nothing on my beliefs one way or another, but I had to flat out tell him I wasn't Christian, and didn't feel qualified to answer his spiritual questions, before he was willing to desist. He was totally fine with my answer and did then agree to speak with a chaplain instead. I left the encounter feeling very unsettled and a bit vulnerable.
"I am a spiritual person, and I can see that your family is as well. That's such a special thing to share with each other." (aaaaand then we change the topic)
That (luckily) hasn't directly come up for me, but I don't talk about religion or politics with anyone unless I sort of accidentally - like if THEY bring something up I agree with - find out that we think the same way about something, but even then, I rarely do with patients or their families. I will a little with co-workers if I find out we're like-minded.
It is pretty hard to avoid discussing religion when you have to tell coworkers and clients you cannot wish them Merry Christmas because of your religion.
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