Parish Nursing: Serving the Mind, Body and Spirit

Religious organizations serve the mind, body and spirit so it only makes sense that faith communities can be a base for health care. Considering the whole person, parish nurses assist members in their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

What is a parish nurse?

A parish nurse is a registered nurse who serves a congregation. In our area, parish nurses volunteer their services, but nurses in metropolitan communities may be paid for their services. Parish nurses act as health educators, personal health counselors, care coordinators, referral resources and integrators of faith and wellness. They encounter a spectrum of health concerns including healthy lifestyle choices, heart disease, substance abuse, violence, risk-taking behaviors and terminal illness.

“Parish nurses take patient care one step beyond by integrating faith and health,” says Wendy Zimmerman, RN, parish nurse coordinator. “We help people tap into their spiritual health as a source of strength and a resource in difficult times.”

Wendy Zimmerman
Wendy Zimmerman

Support in numbers

Wendy, a parish nurse for more than 18 years, leads a parish nursing organization in Washington County that serves 52 congregations or 27,850 parishioners. Retired nurses and practicing nurses comprise the more than 110 RNs serving as parish nurses or faith community nurses.

Faith community nursing is a specialty practice recognized by the American Nurses’ Association. With the support of Meritus Health, Wendy organizes and maintains faith community partnerships; keeps the nurses updated on the practice of faith community nursing and current health trends; and runs a yearly educational program which prepares RNs to become parish nurses.

A hand in health

To help parishioners remain healthy and stay out of the hospital, parish nurses began offering a transitional care program that follows parishioners after hospitalization at Meritus Medical Center. Parish nurses make follow-up phone calls after discharge to assess parishioners’ health needs and to offer assistance.

“This past year, we served 55 patients with a 93 percent success rate of keeping parishioners from being readmitted to the hospital,” explains Wendy. Parish nurses coordinate rides to physician appointments, deliver meals from the church, make referrals to community services, explain medications, answer health-related questions and offer reassurance. They also coordinate visits from the pastor and rides to worship services.

For the past two years, parish nurses have also participated in the Million Hearts blood pressure campaign and screened more than 3,900 parishioners for hypertension. Church members received education and counseling to reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes.

“It was the integration of faith and health that attracted me to parish nursing,” says Wendy. “Faith is a wonderful tool to help cope with illness, a crisis or day-to-day living.”