Job Profile: Parish Nursing

The Pew Research Center found that 84 percent of the world’s 6.9 billion people self-identify with a religious group. Whether they’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or another religious sect, spirituality can play a prominent role in patients’ physical and mental health. Therefore, parish nursing is a rising RN specialty focused on caring for sick and injured congregants within their own worship community. Similar to holistic nurses, parish nurses seek to nurture patients’ mind, body, and spirit to enhance their overall well-being. Licensed RNs often work in church parishes to coordinate health-focused activities, such as flu shot clinics, weight loss counseling, and “Blood Pressure Sundays.” Parish nurses undergo the same rigorous training as their secular colleagues, but their job centers on health promotion from a spiritual perspective.

Salary

The BLS doesn’t keep statistics specifically for parish nurses, but the mean annual wage for the 2.74 million RNs across specialties is currently $71,000, or $34.14 per hour, in the United States. Registered nurses working for the federal government and specialty hospitals typically make the most at $82,620 and $76,310 respectively. However, Church parishes operate on modest means for lower income. PayScale estimates that parish nurses earn $60,232 annually.

Beginning Salary

Less experienced RNs who are hired for paid parish positions generally land in the bottom 10th percentile with a starting salary around $46,360, or $22.29 per hour. Building a parish nursing resume can boost income potential to $82,490 or higher though. According to PayScale, there’s also opportunity for bonuses up to $6,098 with excellent benefits. Parish nurses who advance their career to the APRN level bring home a median six-figure salary of $104,740.

Key Responsibilities

Parish nurses have the ultimate responsibility of treating patients’ physical health concerns while strengthening their spiritual relationship with God. They act as health educators to teach congregants about healthy lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise. Parishioners rely on the RNs to make house visits when they’re ill or injured. Parish nurses advocate for their patients health by making referrals to physicians and community resources. Some will develop small-group sessions for health-related support like grief counseling and parenting advice. Parish RNs may also arrange volunteers for missions abroad to serve the sick. It’s their duty to link religious congregations with the healthcare system to build bridges of spiritual and physical healing.

Necessary Skills

Coordinating health services for a religious organization requires having the traditional RN skills plus your own strong spiritual connection. Parish nurses need interpersonal skills to effectively teach congregants about the best practices to prevent disease. Collaborative ability is a must for RNs to refer patients to available community resources, including physical therapy and women’s health. Parish nurses must have good listening skills to assess patients’ symptoms and find successful solutions for coping with suffering. Being organized and detail-oriented will help parish nurses plan community events while balancing a tight budget. Parish RNs should have the leadership skills to facilitate support groups and volunteer training. Yet foremost, parish nursing is a vocation requiring compassion, empathy, and emotional stability.

Degree and Education Requirements

Unlike most RNs, parish nurses aren’t directly supervised by a physician or administrator. That’s why most churches and religious organizations prefer candidates with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Four-year degrees accredited by the CCNE or ACEN give nurses the in-depth clinical knowledge and practice to autonomously serve patients. Busy nurses who are already licensed could transfer credits through accelerated online RN to BSN programs. Declaring a minor in Bible, religious studies, pastoral counseling, or Christian ministry could set your parish nursing goals. Studying further for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) would advance your credentials for becoming a private nurse practitioner.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Parish nursing can be an excellent career alternative for faithful RNs seeking to connect with patients in the community rather than the confines of a hospital. Parish nurses have greater autonomy in scheduling patients and events in their own schedule. They’re able to openly discuss healing from a spiritual perspective without facing criticism in secular agencies. Paid parish nursing positions typically offer generous pay and benefits with partial salary coming from partnering hospitals. Parish nurses also reap the intrinsic reward of holistically putting parishioners back on the track to wellness. There are some potential disadvantages to consider though. For instance, religious congregations can face budget cuts that threaten their parish nurse’s job. Most will work irregular hours, especially Sundays and faith holidays, outside the normal 9-to-5. Small worship communities where everyone knows each other can cause HIPAA confidentiality concerns. Parish nurses must also afford higher and continuing education to maintain their RN licensure.

Getting Started

Since Rev. Dr. Granger Westberg began the parish nursing movement in 1980s Chicago, the profession has broadened with opportunity. During nursing school, aspiring parish RNs should develop experience promoting wellness in both secular and pastoral settings. Most parishes will require possessing at least two years of patient experience before hire. Once you pass the NCLEX-RN exam, satisfy this requirement working full-time in a hospital or community health department. Taking parish nursing specialty courses is highly recommended. The International Parish Nurse Resource Center (IPNRC) currently has over 135 programs, including some via distance learning. For example, the St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton has a Parish Nursing Certificate for 33.25 contact hours. RNs could also become ANCC board certified in faith community nursing.

Future Outlook

Nursing is the United States’ fastest-growing occupation with the healthcare industry expected to swell through 2024 with over 439,300 RN jobs. Registered nurses have a bright job outlook since the BLS predicts 10-year employment growth at a whopping 16 percent. Parish nurses will benefit greatly from this trend since most new hiring will be outside hospital walls. Healthcare services are increasingly being provided to aging baby boomers in their own homes and communities, including their Church. Upcoming health insurance reform under the Trump administration will likely necessitate more parish RNs helping older parishioners find coverage too. Parish nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher can find abundant openings in churches, community health clinics, nonprofit health organizations, skilled nursing facilities, and diocesan offices.

Parish nursing traces back to the Bible when Apostle Paul introduced Phoebe, a Christian deaconess who cared for the sick in her home. Today’s parish nurses carry on her tradition by working with pastors, priests, and rabbis for health ministry. These RNs spread God’s love by compassionately supporting faithful patients’ physical health and spiritual wholeness. Entering parish nursing gives healthcare professionals the opportunity to use their clinical expertise and healing spirit to better their Church community.

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