Department: Nursing in the Church
Faith community nurses (FCNs) focus on the intentional care of the spirit to provide holistic care, but they do not practice in isolation. For FCNs, partnering with clergy, laity, and other allied healthcare professionals results in enhanced care of the person (patient), family, and often the congregation or community. After attending a Foundations of Faith Community Nursing or other entry to FCN practice course, many FCNs supplement their nursing education and skills by attending denomination-specific training, advanced spiritual care courses, or even seminary. For those who attend seminary, usually the goal is to enhance nursing as ministry.
All nurses are responsible for providing some level of spiritual care. Nurses working in more traditional settings, such as hospitals and hospice, have the opportunity to partner with chaplains to provide ongoing spiritual care. Chaplains most commonly work in hospitals, hospice, and palliative care, providing spiritual comfort and support to all, no matter their faith status. Their main role is to assist with the spiritual support of people in crisis. In some organizations, chaplains also provide spiritual care and support to staff.
One beauty of nurse–chaplain partnerships is that nurses continue to provide spiritual care after the chaplain has visited. Nurses are in a unique position to assure that patients' religious beliefs and customs are integrated into their plan of care. The chain of continuous care is completed when FCNs, working in partnership with chaplaincy and mainstream nurses, continue to provide holistic care after hospital discharge and crises have passed. FCNs also promote holistic care by providing insight and information as the patient's advocate during medical visits, procedures, and at admission to care.
Nurses providing spiritual care do not devalue the role of chaplain or pastor. Nurse and spiritual care expert Mary Elizabeth O'Brien clarifies: “Contemporary nursing textbooks, particularly those addressing fundamentals of nursing and medical-surgical nursing, reveal that the nurse's role in both assessment of patients' spiritual needs and the provision of spiritual care is a significant component of overall nursing” (2014, p. 118). FCNs do not replace other caregivers; rather, they supplement services as an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands, focusing on providing optimum care in a way that honors the patient's faith and traditions.
A new opportunity for nurses to gain spiritual care knowledge and skills has been created by the Spiritual Care Association and the Healthcare Chaplaincy Network. Their white paper on the importance of nursing to spiritual care promotes additional educational opportunities. Nurses can complete a series of three courses to receive a Spiritual Care Generalist Certificate, become a Certified Chaplain, or achieve Board-Certified Chaplain status. These are available at a significant discount through a partnership with the Westberg Institute (https://spiritualcareassociation.org/westberg). The program goal is to provide high-quality spiritual care education and support continuous holistic nursing care in partnership with chaplains. Nurses with this additional spiritual care knowledge are equipped to fill in when chaplains are not available and immediate spiritual care is necessary.
Courses focusing on spiritual care also are available through the Spiritual Care Association's Learning Center (https://spiritualcareassociation.org/learning-center.html). Choices include Clinical Pastoral Education for nurses, palliative care, ethics, and cultural competence from the spiritual care perspective. These electives offer nurses an opportunity to explore and develop their personal faith and expand professional practice to better provide spiritual care at a deeper level.
O'Brien, M. E. (2014). Spirituality in nursing: Standing on holy ground (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
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- International Westberg Symposium, April 8-10, 2019, Memphis, Tennessee
- Caring for the Human Spirit Conference, May 20-22, 2019, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- HealthCare Chaplaincy Network & Spiritual Care Association. (2017). Spiritual care and nursing: A nurse's contribution and practice. Retrieved from https://spiritualcareassociation.org/docs/resources/nurses_spiritual_care_white_paper_3_22_2017.pdf