Parish Nursing Programs: Integrating Faith and Health Programming

Your ministry cares for the spiritual health of your faith community. Why not minister to your congregation’s physical health, as well? Parish nursing, or faith community nursing, seeks to integrate faith and health/wellness programming.

Parish Nursing Program Options

Parish nursing is a specialty practice offered by a licensed nurse in a local church. The practice could include a broad range of wellness, disease prevention, and health promotion programs and services. There are four primary models:

  1. The ministry contracts with a hospital for nursing services.

  2. The church employs the nurse.

  3. The nurse serves the faith community as a volunteer.

  4. A group of faith-based communities pays the nurse.

Regardless of the model chosen, establish a written agreement with the nurse that discusses the terms of service. Be sure you fully understand what services the nurse or the organization providing nursing services will provide and under what circumstances they will deliver services to your church or ministry.

The Parish Nurse Functions in Several Roles

Typically, the nurse assigned to the program will function as a health educator, personal health counselor, referral agent to wellness resources, and patient advocate for health and wellness. The nurse can recruit and train volunteers for special wellness programming, plus facilitate health-related support groups.

The Church Health Center, the largest faith-based health care organization of its type in the United States, recommends that an individual who serves your church as a parish nurse have the following qualifications:

  • An active license in the state in which he or she practices.

  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing with experience in community nursing.

  • An educational course to prepare for community nursing ministry.

  • A specialized knowledge of the spiritual beliefs and practices of your ministry.

  • The ability to reflect personal spiritual maturity in his or her practice.

Other qualities to look for in nursing candidates include being organized, flexible, self-motivated and good at communication.

Limit Liability

Legal risks are common with health and wellness programs. Ministry leaders need to understand and manage the risks. Work with a local attorney to develop your parish nursing program. The Church Health Center recommends the following to decrease the risk of professional liability issues:

  • Have a well-defined job description for the position in the faith community.

  • Create and maintain a strong line of communication between the parish nurse and the church, staff, patient, patient’s family, and any others involved.

  • Comply with the boundaries and functions of the Faith Community: Scope and Standards of Practice.

  • Maintain a documentation system that supports the actions of a faith community nurse.

  • Purchase professional liability (malpractice) insurance and automobile insurance coverage if ministry representatives will be transporting clients in a vehicle.

Consult with a local attorney before starting a parish nursing program at your church. Make sure that all medical professionals providing incidental medical care for your ministry, or at ministry-sponsored activities, have adequate professional liability insurance. Also, if possible, be sure that the medical practitioner’s professional liability insurance policy names your ministry organization as an additional insured. Contact your insurance agent to discuss available coverage options and requirements.

Read more about legal and ethical issues associated with parish nursing programs.

Learn More

Check out these resources for more information about parish nursing programs: