In addition to providing quality medical care, the best nurses feel a compelling desire to care for and sympathize with patients in their care. Nurses see patients in distress due to their medical conditions or other personal issues outside of the medical facility. Many feel an urge to reach out to patients and offer spiritual support, but do not know how to do so.
Spiritual Support – Fundamental to Nursing
The goal of the professional nurse should involve healing the whole person, not just the immediate and tangible physical ailments of the patient. Because of the intangible nature of spirituality, expression of this need by patients may go unnoticed in a clinical setting, especially if the nurse is untrained in providing for this fundamental need in whole patient treatment. Nursing theory states that the human being consists of biological, psychological, and spiritual aspects—making spiritual care applicable to self-proclaimed atheists and agnostics as well as those practicing religion.
What Is Spiritual Support?
Spiritual support consists of any gesture on the part of the nurse to reach out to the patient suffering with emotional and spiritual turmoil or uncertainty. Actions include praying with the patient and direct spiritual dialogue about God, but it can be as simple as listening to patient anxiety and fears about his illness or upcoming treatment. Quality nurses are nurturing by nature. They naturally strive to treat patients with kindness, dignity and respect; this includes talking with them about their beliefs, fears, and concerns and offering reassurance.
Training in Spiritual Support for Nurses
Nurses can take a number of continuing education courses offering training in the various aspects of spirituality in healing. These courses expose participants to a wide range of religious and cultural values that nurses may come across in the diverse populations present in the U.S. today. The courses teach health care professionals how to offer meaningful support to patients even when their beliefs differ considerably from their own.
Thank you for your comment. I see nurses almost daily -- running from here to there throughout the hospital complex, trying to provide excellent patient care while also dealing with the ever growing red tape as well. You are correct, many nurses do already provide spiritual support, but many are also conflicted as to whether they should do so. They feel as if they don't know what to do, how to do it, or what to say. These nurses feel extremely competent regarding nursing care, but aren't sure how or if to provide the spiritual care many of their patients so desperately need. I don't think it feasible for nurses to provide comprehensive spiritual counseling to patients -- only join in on conversation with the patient in this regard or answer questions in ways that will reassure them spiritually. As stated above, this could include simple dialogue about God or praying with the patient. This can happen within five minutes while in the patient's room, taking care of other healthcare-related tasks. Nurses who find themselves deeply interested in this service can take classes in technique and protocol; some have even spearheaded groups of nurses who take spirituality to heart and choose to take the small amount of additional time necessary to provide this important service to patients.
Clearly, nurses already provide emotional support. But many med/surg nurses are running around like headless chickens trying to complete their ever-growing list of tasks and responsibilities. Where, do you suppose, they'll find the time to now provide comprehensive spiritual therapy and support--a practice which is time intensive?