A parish nurse is a nursing professional, typically a registered nurse (RN), who focuses on the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of individuals as they try to achieve wellness and manage their illnesses. A parish nurse focuses on the whole person rather than just the physical. Because of this, the spiritual and emotional components of an individual’s well being are equally important to a parish nurse.
Parish Nurse: Not Your Typical RN
Parish nursing is not typical medical nursing with the administering of medications, injections, and monitoring vital signs. It is the integration of the practice of faith with the practice of nursing. The parish nurse works in conjunction with the pastoral staff of a faith community and the congregation. The parish nurse works as an educator, counselor, referral agent, and advocate. Functions that may be performed by a parish nurse include:
- Providing a faith-based perspective on health and wellness.
- Helping members to understand the relationships between the body, mind, and spirit.
- Visiting church members in their homes or hospitals.
- Providing individuals with counseling on health-related issues.
- Making referrals to other community resources and assisting people in obtaining needed health services.
- Assisting members in adapting to changes in their lives.
- Teaching classes on wellness.
- Providing nursing services.
- Providing health screenings.
- Developing support groups within the church.
- Training and coordinating congregational volunteers.
- Acting as an advocate for health and wellness issues.
The Skills a Parish Nurse Will Need
Parish nursing can be an emotionally demanding job. It can also be immensely rewarding. Parish nurses need to be caring, sympathetic, and able to empathize with their parishioners. They also need to be able to deal with the stress and the emotional strain of dealing with troubled, sick, injured, and even dying parishioners. Parish nurses require good observational skills, listening skills, communication skills, and the ability to make decisions based on the assimilation and evaluation of information. They also need to be able to relate and communicate health and wellness topics, along with spiritual and emotional topics.
Parish nurses also need to be able to work with many different constituencies. They need to cooperate and coordinate with the ministerial staff of their parish. They need to work with parishioners and volunteers. They also regularly interface with health, counseling and wellness organizations outside the faith community.
Income of a Parish Nurse
Most parish nurses would probably describe the rewards of the job as intrinsic and spiritual in nature, rather than monetary. Many parish nurses are unpaid volunteers. Others, however, are paid by the church or the congregation. There are few published reports of parish nurses’ salaries, but those that exist indicate that a typical half-time parish nurse might expect to make about $15,000 a year.
Training and Education Required to Become a Parish Nurse
According to Marquette University, most parish nurses are registered nurses who have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Many have advanced degrees. RNs with BSN degrees are qualified to make independent nursing decisions and take independent nursing actions. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) would have significant limitations on the nursing functions that they can perform.
The requirements to become a registered nurse with a BSN degree are quite rigorous. All 50 States and the District of Columbia require that registered nurse candidates obtain a nursing degree from an approved nursing program. The bachelor’s degree program in nursing typically takes four years to complete.
All registered nurse programs require both classroom study and supervised clinical experience in hospital departments. All 50 states and the District of Columbia require that RNs pass a licensing examination (NCLEX-RN from The National Council of State Boards of Nursing or NCSBN). States require that registered nurse licenses be renewed. The time frame for renewal varies by state. Many states also have continuing education requirements as a requirement for license renewal. States may also have other state-specific requirements. Individuals interested in becoming a registered nurse should contact the Board of Nursing for their state to better understand the licensing requirements.
While there are no specific educational requirements necessary to become a parish nurse, most parishes and congregations look for nurse candidates who have additional training in parish nursing. Most nurses are not familiar with working with and for a congregation, nor are they familiar with the theological perspectives on health, healing, and wellness. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has recognized parish nursing as a specialty practice since 1998. The International Parish Nurse Resource Center (IPNRC) has developed a standardized core curriculum including content on the theology of health as well as prayer and worship. The IPNRC indicates that over sixty educational institutions provide such content.
Click here for information on schools offering Parish Nursing Training and the programs that they offer.
Employment for parish nurses
Parish nurses practice in congregations or faith communities of every denomination. Current estimates indicate that there are about 6,000 practicing parish nurses in the United States. The International Parish Nurse Resource Center (IPNRC) indicates that over 7000 nurses have been prepared as parish nurses using their standardized core curriculum.
There are no published statistics on the job outlook for parish nurses, but anecdotal information indicates that the outlook for parish nurses should be favorable. The estimated 6,000 practicing parish nurses cover only a small percentage of the total number of parishes in the United States. The majority of parishes are, however, small parishes, so the prospects of making a substantial income from parish nursing are probably limited.