As Christians, we need divine help to make eternal impacts through our work as Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs). When I entered my role as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), my husband and I prayed over each exam room in my clinic. We asked that God would illuminate what I needed to see and hear during future appointments. The first step I implemented as an FNP was to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what was most needed to see and hear from the person on the other side of each exam room door—before I knocked.
One day, I had an FNP student with me and we were behind schedule. I felt stressed and rushed. Yet, when we arrived at our next door, I felt prompted to silently pray for God's help before we knocked. Inside sat a young mother who greeted us warmly. Her chief complaint was depression.
As the appointment progressed, our patient told us that she had promised her best friend to be honest about her level of depression. She handed me her phone with permission to read her text correspondences. While my student continued asking our patient questions, I began reading words that painted a stark contrast to the smiling patient before our eyes. I thought about how Jesus would engage people, often with questions. I rolled my stool closer, pointed to an explicit word in the text message and asked, “Why did you call yourself this name?” Our patient stared at me and then her face contorted. Her guarded demeanor switched to brokenness and she began to sob.
“I had an abortion as a teenager. My mother and boyfriend wanted me to do it. I knew it was wrong. I am a terrible person. My husband doesn't know; he is a good man and he hates abortion.” As she recounted the years since her abortion, she expressed a desire to become close to God but said she couldn't believe he would forgive her. I gently took her hand. My student moved toward her compassionately. We talked about Christ's love and forgiveness for all our sins—even those for which we are most ashamed. Our patient confessed that in her desperation she was considering getting back in touch with her old boyfriend to talk about what they had done. At times when our patient talked about her shame and I wasn't sure what to say, my student, also a believer, wisely responded.
We advised our patient not to contact her old boyfriend and to consider telling her husband the truth. I prescribed medication, counseling, anonymous post-abortion support, and involvement in Christian community. When my student and I closed the door behind us, neither of us was surprised to discover that our next two scheduled patients “no showed.” We were back on time, humbled by how God had used us in that exam room.
During her follow-up appointments, our patient reported how she had told her husband the truth. He finally understood the source of her deepest sorrow and loved her unconditionally. She had also experienced healing in her Christian faith and was mothering her three children well. In our last appointment together, she disclosed that she had planned to end her life the first day we met and keep her secret concealed forever. The Holy Spirit had highlighted what my student and I needed to see and hear.
As APNs, we have unique opportunities to meet people where they are, often at some of the most difficult times of life. Consider how you could bring more spiritual depth to your practice by integrating prayer before knocking or being open to the Holy Spirit guiding your day so that you can more fully reflect God's love and service in your daily health ministry.
- 1) How might you integrate prayer before knocking into your practice?
- 2) What are two additional ways that you can enhance the spiritual care of patients in your APN practice?
- 3) How can you better trust God to maximize your time to best meet the spiritual needs of your patients?