Written by: Sue Schmitz, RN, PN, Parish Health Ministry Coordinator, Agnesian HealthCare
Just as each faith community (mosque, synagogue, temple, church) is different in size, wealth and age range of its members, each parish nurses’ roles and responsibilities is also a little different. All parish nurses, however, share the same basic roles:
Integrator of faith, health: They help people focus on their health. They emphasize wellness, disease prevention, and health promotion in the context of their spiritual, mental, physical and social well-being.
Personal health counselor: Parish nurses help individuals and families understand and cope with health concerns and identify healthcare needs. They may visit parishioners in their homes, hospitals and long-term care facilities, and may be available at established times at the church.
Health educator: A parish nurse provides current and accurate health-related information that focuses on disease prevention and maintaining wellness for body, spirit and mind.
Facilitator and coordinator of volunteers: They can identify and recruit volunteers who can be available to respond to short term needs such as visits, transportation or meals – to expand the sources of help within a congregation.
Referral agent: Parish nurses serve as a liaison between the church, hospital and community resources. They can recommend where congregants can go to get the help they need.
Health advocate: Parish nurses can help members who need support in making decisions about their health, and they can help relate these decisions to care providers.
Parish nurses do not do “hands-on” care like giving shots, changing dressings or helping with bathing. They do not replace, but work with services in the community to help meet the needs of the members of their congregation.