Nursing Is 'Ministry'
June 30, 1998
ursing should be viewed as a ministry as well as a profession because nurses serve as "anonymous ministers" in tending the sick, suggests a professor from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Several dimensions of nursing qualify it as a ministry, said nursing Professor Mary Elizabeth O'Brien. She lists them as the "calling" that many feel to become nurses; providing care in a way that recognizes each patient as a reflection of God; and participating in informal liturgies with patients and families. These events range from praying with patients to participating in rituals.
While conducting interviews with nurses for a forthcoming book on the spirituality of nursing, O'Brien said the entry into the nursing profession was repeatedly described as a "sacred calling." One nurse said she felt a calling at age 16 to become a nurse, much like the urges many feel to enter religious life.
As a consequence, many nurses develop what O'Brien calls a "nonverbal theology" - a way of addressing patients' needs in a spiritual way without discussing theology.
One community health nurse told O'Brien she is reminded of the suffering of Christ as she cares for her patients, who include homeless people and drug addicts. "This is really where I meet Christ - in the streets, " she said.
Nurses need to incorporate spiritual care into their nursing, said O'Brien, explaining that it can be as simple as praying with or for a patient. "It's not a separate task. Spiritually is imbedded in the careful giving of the medicines, the wiping of the brow, the acknowledgment of the patient's humanness."
At other times, incorporating spirituality can become a ritual. One group of nurses, caring for a dying infant whose family was absent, took the baby into a private room, where they held her, prayed and sang hymns as she died.
O'Brien's book, Spirituality in Nursing: Standing on Holy Ground, is scheduled to be published in September.
Catholic University's School of Nursing is distinguished for preparing graduates for a changing health-care environment and for its consistently top-rated research-oriented programs. The school's undergraduate program is ranked among the top 10 in the country in the 1998 The Gourman Report: A Rating of Undergraduate Programs in American and International Universities. Integral to the school's curricula is the extra dimension of religion, biomedical ethics and philosophy, which allows graduates to bring Judeo-Christian values to patients' experiences. The hallmark of the undergraduate program is its emphasis on clinical performance based on scientific and nursing theories. Graduate programs prepare nurses to be educators, administrators, practitioners and researchers. Master's and post-master's nurse practitioner programs in family, pediatric, school and adult health are available as well as the advanced practice psych-mental health role. Graduates lead the profession by holding such positions as Army brigadier generals, Navy admirals, university deans and health care nursing executives. All programs focus on the skills to succeed and the values to guide.
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Revised: June 30, 1998
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