How to Be a Church Nurse

by Beth Greenwood

    Church nursing -- also known as parish or congregational nursing -- has its roots in the Christian concepts of compassionate caring for all. Modern parish nursing began in America in 1984, under the direction of Granger Westburg, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a pioneer in the concepts of combining religion, medicine and wholistic health. A parish nurse's responsibility is focusing on the promotion of health care within the context of a faith community’s values, beliefs and practices.

    Education and Licensing

    A parish nurse must be a registered nurse with an active license. RNs become licensed by earning one of three educational credentials: a nursing school diploma program, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. Basic nursing education takes two to four years, depending on the program. Master’s degrees and doctorates are also available, but not necessary for licensure. After graduation, the nurse must pass the national licensing exam, known as the NCLEX-RN. The American Nurses Association has a scope of practice and practice standards for parish nurses, although there is no certification for this specialty as of 2013.

    Responsibilities and Duties

    A parish nurse may act as a health educator, a referral source or liaison with the community; educate or facilitate the education of volunteers; or provide information on the interrelationship between faith and health. Parish nurses organize health fairs, visit congregation members who have health concerns to provide education or assist with referrals, provide caregiver training and educate congregation members about ethical and moral health issues. In addition to providing education or direct nursing care, a parish nurse might pray for healing, serenity or acceptance with a patient. Parish nurses are also found in Jewish, Muslin and other faith communities in addition to Christian churches.

    Educational Programs

    Some schools and universities offer educational programs for parish nursing and the International Parish Nurse Resource Center, or IPNRC, has a model curriculum that educational institutions and programs can purchase from the organization. Sources of education include Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, which offers a master’s degree in parish nursing in collaboration with the school of divinity. Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing in Alabama has a parish nursing certificate program and Union University School of Nursing in Tennessee offers a parish nursing course. The Virginia Parish Nurse Educational Program and Florida Hospital provide training through the Parish Nurse Institute. The IPNRC also has general information on parish nursing.

    Work Environment and Compensation

    A parish nurse works in the community she serves; she may see patients at the church or in their homes. Parish nurses often work closely with public health departments, as much of their work overlaps with the community health activities often provided by public health nurses. Although many parish nurses are retired or volunteer their time, some paid positions can be found. In Florida, the Winter Park Health Foundation provides grants to support parish nurse salaries, according to a July 2011 article in the "Orlando Sentinel." The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track parish nurses specifically, but the agency reports the average annual salary of RNs in 2011 was $69,110.

    About the Author

    Beth Greenwood is a registered nurse and writer. She served as a columnist for the Tides Foundation's Community Clinic Voice on quality improvement and now contributes to various websites. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College and is a graduate of the California HealthCare Foundation Health Care Leadership Program.

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