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Faith Community Nursing

– A Holistic Approach to Care

Parish Nurses Stained Glass Window Logo2011 marked the 25th year for the Westberg Parish Nurse Symposium. This annual event brought together faith community nurses (FCN)1 – also known as parish nurses, congressional nurses, health ministers, pastoral associates, parish care coordinators, church nurses, and health ministry nurses – from around the United States, to explore their roles in the integration of traditional nursing care with the spiritual and emotional needs of individuals.

What is Faith Community Nursing?

Faith community nursing is a unique specialty practice. The “Parish Nurse Movement” began over 25 years ago with the work of Rev. Dr. Granger Westberg, and his vision of parish nursing as a partnership between health care systems and faith communities. The movement began with humble roots in Park Ridge, Illinois and now serves 23 countries.2

FCNs have completed an accredited nursing program and are currently licensed as a registered nurse. While faith community nurse training is not required, it is recommended by professional nurse organizations for those interested in working with faith communities. Over 10,000 nurses have completed the curriculum offered by the International Parish Nurse Resource Center.3 It is estimated that there are over 15,000 FCNs worldwide.

Of the 417 client interventions identified by respondents in a national survey exploring the complexities of FCN, the primary focus of their work relates to health promotion, coping assistance, and spiritual care.4 They serve as educators and counselors, and provide spiritual support, referrals, and health screenings. Because they work with a variety of faith communities – including Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, in a variety of settings – homes, community centers, and houses of worship – access to appropriate consumer health information can be a challenge.

FCN Health Information Needs Assessment

The National Network of Libraries of Medicine, MidContinental Region (NN/LM MCR) identified FCN as a potential collaborator for health information literacy outreach. At this year’s Westberg Symposium, MCR coordinators distributed a short questionnaire to 135 attendees to learn what type and format of health information was most needed by FCNs for their outreach to clients and for their own professional development. The results indicated a high need for print materials, as many clients served in the faith communities did not have online access. There was also a need for audio and visual materials. The main barriers to locating health information materials for clients were lack of time and not knowing how to identify reliable resources. The main barrier to their own professional development was the lack of published research for practicing in a faith community.

Based on the needs expressed by respondents to the questionnaire, MCR coordinators will work with FCNs to raise awareness of high-quality National Library of Medicine consumer information and patient education resources available online and in print through a series of articles highlighting resources and health topics. Coordinators will continue to seek avenues to provide hands-on and virtual training on biomedical research tools for FCN professional development.

-Dana Abbey, Colorado/Health Information Coordinator

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1 For the purposes of this article, FCN, faith community nurse, and faith community nursing will be used to encompass the variety of titles used to identify this nursing specialty.

2 International Parish Nurse Resource Center (2011). History of the International Parish Nurse Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.parishnurses.org/HistoryofIPNRC_221.aspx.

3 As of October 1, 2011, the Church Health Center will serve as the new home for the International Parish Nurse Resource Center.

4 Solari-Twadell and Hackbarth, “Evidence for a New Paradigm of the Ministry of Parish Nursing Practice Using the Nursing Intervention Classification System,” 72.

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