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Parish Nursing: Treating the Whole Person

Imagine a young athlete with a leg injury. She goes to the hospital for treatment, and leaves with a cast meant to heal her broken bone. Has she been fully treated? According to Registered Nurse Jane Cheyne, only partly.

Cheyne points out the high chance this young athlete might suffer from anger or depression after her athletic career is temporarily, or even permanently, halted.

“In a hospital, you basically care for a person’s physical health,” she explained. “But a person has other needs that compose overall health – emotional and spiritual ones.”

That is where Cheyne’s work as Faith Community Nurse Coordinator for Parish Nursing on the Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan Health Care Leadership Team comes into play. Cheyne (who represents Ascension SE Michigan as Coordinator of Community Health) and others like her help to coordinate Faith Community Nursing Program (or Parish Nurse Programs, as they are called) in the Detroit Archdiocese.

“Parish Nurses realize the mind/body/spirit aspect of medical care,” said Cheyne. “They treat the whole person.”

“We want to make the ministry of Parish Nursing more visible,” explained Joyce Hyttinen, Director of Christian Service and Healthcare Ministry at Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan. Hyttinen works with Cheyne and other Faith Community Nurse Coordinators to support the women and men serving as Parish Nurses. “We want to encourage parishes to have a Parish Nurse. And we want to encourage nurses to consider this ministry at their parish.”

About one third of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit have a Parish Nurse Program. Some Parish Nurses are retired registered nurses, but to participate in the program, Parish Nurses must maintain their license to practice.

With a focus on promoting healthy life styles and disease prevention, a Parish Nurse performs services like:
• Monthly blood pressure screenings
• Making referrals to community agencies/health resources
• Writing articles on health-related topics for the parish bulletin
• Making pastoral visits to homebound and hospitalized persons
• Assisting at parish or vicariate healing services and Masses offering the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
• Organizing health promotion events such as:
-diabetes education classes
-bereavement classes
-blood drives
-parenting education programs
-CPR/AED training
-babysitting training

Parish Nurses host events like this Bone Density Testing program.

“When I retired from a 40-year long career in nursing, I wasn’t ready to retire from ‘being a nurse,” said Sue Smedley, MSN, RN, who serves with two other nurses through the Faith and Wellness Ministry at St. Lawrence Parish in Utica. “After some prayerful thought, I realized God was calling me to continue my nursing career, albeit in a different environment.”

“All three of us find it spiritually fulfilling to serve in this capacity,” she said. “With God’s help, we will continue this ministry and be guided to provide those services which our Parishioners need for a long time to come.”

Those interested in becoming a Parish Nurse should first talk with the Christian Service representative at their parish to see if there is a need. Then parish representatives can contact Catholic Charities. Depending on the location of a parish, Hyttinen will put the interested nurse in contact with a Faith Community Nurse coordinator like Cheyne. With resources from his or her local hospital system, the Faith Community Nurse Coordinator will then provide the nurse with training information and ongoing support.

A Parish Nurse not only needs to have an up-to-date license to practice, but they generally need three-to-five years of registered nursing experience. Then they need to complete the parish nurse preparation course developed by the International Parish Nurse Resource Center. The course offers 36 hours of continuing education credits. Partial scholarships are available to cover the cost, Hyttinen said.

Catholic Charities supports the Parish Nurse’s ministry with events like a yearly retreat. For more information, contact Hyttinen at (586) 416-2300 ext. 4032 or at hyttinenj@ccsem.org.

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