Written by: Sue Schmitz, RN, PN, Parish Health Ministry Coordinator, Agnesian HealthCare
A parish nurse (also called a “faith community nurse”) is a registered nurse with training in whole person health, who works within a faith community (mosque, synagogue, temple, church). A parish nurse focuses on promoting a healthy lifestyle and disease prevention habits to help people of all ages get and stay healthy.
For example, parish nurses may write articles for their church newsletter or post health education on a bulletin board. They may visit people in their homes to check on them after they’ve been in the hospital, review discharge instructions and may refer people to a community resource that’s needed. They may teach small group classes on something as basic as hand-washing to as complex as heart disease.
Most parish nurses work voluntarily within their own faith community - some work with a health committee and some work by themselves. All parish nurses work to integrate faith and health to help the people in that congregation lead healthier lives.
Parish nurses seek to increase health awareness and to help people understand the relationship between lifestyle, personal habits, attitudes, faith and well-being. They promote health and healing within the context of values, beliefs, traditions and culture of a faith community.
Parish nurses attend a “Foundations Course” developed by the Westberg Institute in consultation with the National League for Nursing and the American Nurses Association (ANA) Credentialing Center. The course covers the broad areas of spirituality, professionalism, holistic health and community with topics that include: spiritual care, prayers, self-care, ethical issues, documentation, behavioral health, health promotion, life issues of violence, suffering and grief, legalities, assessment and care coordination.
In Wisconsin, several universities offer foundation courses several times per year - each consisting of 38 to 40 contact hours. Parish nurses may also be certified as experts in their role through the ANA Credential Center by submitting the required documentation of their work.