“I solemnly pledge myself before God”...”to practice my profession faithfully.” Most, if not all of us, raised our hand and said these phrases aloud as we graduated from our nursing programs. Embedded within the Florence Nightingale pledge, these phrases could easily be heard at any religious event. Nightingale referenced her faith in God in multiple letters and manuscripts over her lifetime, but she wasn't the author of this pledge. Lystra Gretter, an instructor of nursing at Harper Hospital in Detroit, Mich., penned it for the graduating class of 1893.
The profession of nursing seems to have strayed far from its religious origins; however, despite this transition, we still owe it to our patients to address the spiritual aspects of their care. We must fully address our patients' spiritual needs, not simply ask the routine admission question “What religion do you practice?” as required by regulatory agencies such as The Joint Commission.
A plethora of stories exist regarding the importance of faith when facing a terminal illness. An equal amount of literature demonstrates the impact of spirituality during grieving. However, reliance on faith is an integral part of many patients' coping skills when undergoing simple procedures, facing major surgeries, or dealing with traumatic events such as sexual assault and abuse.
The nursing profession needs to be as quick to offer spiritual counseling when a patient is admitted for what's deemed “routine” surgery as we are to offer to call the patient's spiritual leader when a death is imminent. Death and loss shouldn't be the only triggers prompting us to think of spiritual support for our patients. Recognizing the value of spirituality and faith practices used by patients to cope with the events of daily living is essential for nurses to provide holistic, compassionate care.
Part of providing for the spiritual needs of your patients involves being willing to participate in their spiritual practices when requested. Be willing to be present during prayer when asked, knowing that your actions acknowledge this patient need; this intervention may be as important for the patient as the medications you administered. Although you may not adhere to your patient's particular religious beliefs, show respect for his or her faith by remaining silent at the bedside during prayers, preparing the patient for a ceremony to be performed in the hospital room, or caring for a minutes-old newborn according to a specific religious practice.
By providing for the spiritual needs of your patients, you're indeed practicing your profession faithfully and devoting yourself to the complete and compassionate care of your patients.
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