January 29, 2018

Faith Community Nursing: Healing Across The Country

Faith Community Nursing: Healing Across The Country
Angelina Walker By: Angelina Walker

By Lee Nelson

Perla Rivera will never forget a patient who was struggling in many areas of her life.

“She was about to lose her house, she had no food, was in financial trouble and was overwhelmingly stressed,” says Rivera, a faith community nurse based out of First United Methodist Church McAllen in McAllen, Texas. 

“We made an appointment, and I met with her immediately. She was in a crisis. She cried while explaining her struggles to me. She didn’t have any family support and was raising three children on her own,” she adds.

Rivera asked her how her physical health was and offered to check her blood pressure. It was dangerously high. She explained to her that while it was important to address her financial needs, she also had to prioritize her health immediately because she could suffer a heart attack or stroke at any moment.

That day, she helped her with financial assistance and food, and also connected her to a doctor. 

“She was grateful I took the time to focus on all her needs. I felt God gave me the wisdom to approach that situation. It was one of those days I felt like I really made a difference,” she explains.

Rivera is among a growing segment of registered nurses becoming faith community nurses, once commonly known as parish nurses.

She is a Wesley Nurse for Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., which is a private, faith-based, not-for-profit organization that creates access to health care for uninsured and low-income families in 74 counties across South Texas.

“We care for people holistically -- their mental, physical and spiritual needs. That’s something that’s important about this line of work because we’re trying to create a culture of health and change how people improve their health,” she adds.

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What is faith community nursing?

faith community nursing is patient-centered. The nurses use the same nursing skills and knowledge to address our patient’s needs. However, they want to empower them to be in control. 

“We want them to take ownership of their health, in all these aspects. We are there to walk alongside them as health coaches and advocates in their health journey. We want patients to discover what their needs are, create their goals and then achieve them,” Rivera says. 

What are some of the responsibilities of a faith community nurse?

“We promote health to prevent or minimize illness. We’re educators.  For example, we provide diabetes education. We’re advocates. We’re members of community boards or groups. And we must network and seek out resources that our patients need – from setting up a doctor’s appointment to helping them pay an electricity bill, any need they have. As a faith community nurse, building relationships in the community is essential,” she says. 

What kind of person becomes a faith community nurse?

Rivera sums it up in three words – caring, compassionate and servant-leader. You need to have a strong sense of faith and hope to be effective in this line of work. Often, the people who come to you feel hopeless and helpless.

So, when you’re able to inspire hope in them, or even encourage their faith, it changes their outlook and their health outcomes, she says. 

What do you get out of being a faith community nurse?

“It’s been the most rewarding job that God has given me. I feel it’s more of a calling, like I’m fulfilling my purpose, and it’s the reason I became a nurse,” Rivera states.

She is able to take her time working with patients, unlike a hospital where they may come in and out within 24 hours. She’s able to sit down and listen to them and build that relationship.

Faith community nursing focuses on a patient’s spirit, so she can pray with patients and address their spiritual needs. Just like other nursing specialties, it takes constant learning and developing to be able to do your best day-to-day. It’s a job that requires you to be selfless. It humbles you. 

Explain how someone becomes a faith community nurse

First, you need to be a registered nurse with an unencumbered license, says Dr. Sharon T. Hinton, a board-certified Faith Community Nurse, educator and coordinator. She is a provider unit administrator and lead nurse planner for the Westberg Institute for Faith Community Nursing in Memphis, Tenn. 

A faith community nurse also should take a Foundations of Faith Community Nursing course or equivalent. Find an FCN mentor and join a local or national network for support to get started. Gather information, including the Scope & Standards of Faith Community Nurse practices.

You can then approach faith community leadership and explain how health ministry will fit into the overall mission.

What special certifications, personality traits, passions, training, etc. does it take to work as a parish nurse?

You should have experience as a registered nurse, spiritual maturity, an understanding that holistic care of humans includes multiple aspects including faith and spirituality, and ability to work independently/self-starter, Hinton says. 

Are parish nurses all volunteers or are some paid?

“Slowly, the percentage of paid faith community nurses is increasing. They may be paid by a single congregation, shared between multiple congregations, be paid by a hospital or other organization, or be paid through a grant,” Hinton says. 

Salary is not what validates the faith community nursing practice! Unpaid professionals are recognized for specialty practice certification and holistic practice in the same way as their paid counterparts, she adds.

Where can you find work as a parish nurse?

Faith community nurses work in all major denominations and many non-denominational settings in all major religions worldwide, Hinton explains.

They are also found in non-profits, faith-based organizations, and charities as well as in secular organizations such as the theme park industry. Wherever holistic care with intentional care of the spirit is desired, FCNs are at work.

Are there other nursing organizations or associations that support parish nurses?

Health Ministries Association and Faith Community Nursing International are both directly related to the specialty practice. Many others support indirectly the spiritual care focus such as Healthcare Chaplaincy Network.

What does the Westberg Institute offer for faith community nurses?

The institute provides support and promotion of the specialty practice worldwide through education, resources, and a Knowledge Sharing Communications Platform for FCNs and their teams to provide high quality, best-practice holistic healthcare, Hinton says.

“While many of international colleagues and some denominations like the United Methodists use the term “parish nurse”, the official title according to the American Nurses Association is “Faith Community Nurse.”

It is understood that various religions may use other titles such as Crescent Nurse, Shabbat Nurse, Congregational Nurse, Church Nurse, and that is acceptable according to the Scope & Standards of Practice.

“The critical point to make is that faith community nurses are not just a ‘nurse in the church,’ ” she says. “This is a specialty practice. To use the title parish/faith community nurse or any form of it, a registered nurse must follow the Scope and Standards, have additional training in spiritual care, and provide holistic care.”

What is the salary range and job outlook for parish nursing?

It is comparable to the average RN salary in areas of the country. This is a growing specialty practice, Hinton says.

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