Building on a Caring Profession: Parish Nurses

Article excerpt

WHILE HENRY FISHER was visiting relatives in Bethlehem, Pa., a few years ago, he felt faint while attending church. He was quickly escorted to the parish nurse's office. There, the nurse did a blood pressure check and told Mr. Fisher his blood pressure indicated he was at risk for some serious health problems.

"She made me promise to see my doctor as soon as I returned home," he recalled. He did see his doctor and now takes medication. "But what surprised me most was that she called me later to ensure that I had gone to the doctor and to find out how I was doing."

He felt cared for, albeit from a distance.

As health-care costs rise, and many are seeking alternatives to North American medical treatment practices, spirituality is finding its way back to healing.

Parish nursing, a concept which has its roots in the United States, has become a growing part of a number of Canadian Anglican congregations. A parish nursing program enables registered nurses to establish assistance in health care education and become advocates for those in the parish who are challenged by medical problems.

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Fisher, an ordained Lutheran minister, along with other like-minded Christians, formed Interchurch Health Ministries. Located in Durham, Ont., the non-profit organization's aim is to assist those wishing to establish parish nursing programs in their churches. The group helps co-ordinate the training of nurses and to facilitate their establishment as part of a pastoral care team. Funding comes from a number of sources, including Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. "Parish nursing appeals to me because I see it as a way to fulfill our apostolic mandate to preach, to teach and to heal," said Mr. Fisher.

Over the past three years, parish nursing in Canada has grown from a handful of nurses working independently, and often in isolation, to about 1,000 people.

Finding funding for even a part-time parish nurse can be a challenge, Mr. Fisher acknowledged. He added many parish nurses view the work as a vocation. Therefore, even the ones who are lucky enough to get a stipend for eight hours a week, often put in more than 16 hours a week on the job.

Gail Brimbecomb is a nursing instructor at Durham Community College in Oshawa, Ont. Her background is in community health and she is a member of Westminster United Church in Whitby, Ont. Her faith and her job has always been entwined.

"I've been part of the church all my life," she said. "When I visit people, I always bring my nursing expertise along - not in an intentional way, but it's there because of my background."

Mrs. Brimbecomb was asked to chair Interchurch Health's steering committee, but due to the demands of her teaching job, she couldn't take on the role. However, she was interested in the work the organization was doing, both personally and as a nurse involved in training other nurses.

Most nurses learn about caring for the physical symptoms, she said. Very often, issues of faith are not part of nursing practice and are very difficult to introduce into the secular world. Faith issues are left to the church. …