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Frequently Asked Questions


Who can be a parish nurse?

Any registered nurse with a current license who embraces the concept that spiritual care is an important part of a person's wellness can serve as a parish nurse. Licensed practical nurses, allied health professionals, and lay persons may serve in this ministry of health and wholeness, under the direction of a registered nurse. Special training in the relationship between faith and health is required.

What do parish nurses do?

Parish nurses are usually volunteers in their faith community but some are members of a paid church staff. All work closely with the pastoral staff and under the general direction of a congregational health council. Keeping the parish nurse roles in mind, congregational activities may include the following:

  • Integrating faith and health: In all activities of the parish nurse, there is a focus on the intentional care of the spirit. Parish nursing is a ministry or calling. The parish nurse is always looking for ways to integrate faith and health within the belief system of their faith community.
  • Health education: Facilitating group classes or individual teaching about health related issues, writing monthly articles for the church newsletter, and maintaining monthly bulletin board displays with health and wellness information.
  • Health counseling: Blood pressure screenings; answering individuals' questions; visiting homes, hospitals, or nursing homes to assess healthcare needs.
  • Referring agent: Referring parishioners to physicians; connecting individuals with congregational and community resources.
  • Health advocacy: Facilitating discharge planning for hospitalized parishioners; helping individuals navigate our healthcare system.
  • Training volunteers: Assisting and training lay visitors; teaching infection control techniques to nursery workers.
  • Developing support groups: Facilitating a widow or widower group; sponsoring regular meetings of people with diabetes or those who have experienced loss.

The activity of the parish nurse is often shaped by the needs of the congregation, the area of expertise of the parish nurse, and the amount of time that the parish nurse works or volunteers.

How do I become a parish nurse?

The parish nurses of Meritus Health invite you to join them in this exciting ministry!
Basic educational preparation for parish nurses is required and includes history, philosophy, roles and functions of the parish nurse, the role of the church in health, how to function as a member of the pastoral team, health promotion and maintenance, documentation, accountability, confidentiality, legal considerations, spiritual care, working with volunteers, how to access community resources, and self-care for parish nurses.

An annual parish nurse education program is conducted by Meritus Health in partnership with Hagerstown Community College. This offering for 36 contact hours is provided by the Maryland Community College Association for Continuing Education & Training, which is accredited as a provider of continuing education in nursing by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.

Click here for an informational brochure about the upcoming Foundations of Faith Community/Parish Nursing Course, and click here to download the registration form.

For more information about parish nursing or educational preparation contact
Wendy Zimmerman
Parish Nurse Coordinator
1799 Howell Rd.
Hagerstown, MD 21740
Phone 301-766-7840
Fax 301-766-7830

What is the history of parish nursing?

Parish nursing as we know it today was developed by a Lutheran minister, the Reverend Dr. Granger Westberg. Dr. Westberg originally envisioned parish nursing as a partnership between healthcare systems and congregations, linking resources of the healthcare system to the faith community. He recognized the church as being a place that promoted health and wholeness for centuries through worship, music, sharing, and caring. In addition, communities of faith are an institution that interacts with individuals from birth through death.

Originally developed in 1984 as a partnership between Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, and six area congregations, the ecumenical movement has now become international in scope. Having a nurse in active congregational ministry provides a unique forum for health promotion and disease prevention. Members of a faith community, knowing that a nurse is available on an informal basis, can discuss a health concern with the nurse before it becomes a chronic or serious condition.

What is the history of the Meritus Medical Center Parish Nursing Program?

Gail Petre, RN, MS, pioneered the parish nursing program at Washington County Hospital in 1996. Six congregations joined in partnership with this new and exciting health ministry. Those churches were Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Welty Church of the Brethren, Christ’s Reformed United Church of Christ, Hancock United Methodist Church, and Mt. Zion Mennonite Church.

Ms. Petre retired in 1998, and Wendy Zimmerman, RN, BSN, took on the parish nurse coordinator role. Currently, Meritus Health partners with 50 congregations and supports the work of over 100 unpaid parish nurses.

11116 Medical Campus Road
Hagerstown, MD 21742
TDD: 1-800-735-2258
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