Parish Nursing Is Subject Of Conference

Parish nursing, a growing field that links physical and spiritual care-giving, will be the topic of a March 28 conference sponsored by the School of Nursing, which is considering a program in the field.

The conference from 9 a.m. to noon in Fulton 511 will feature an address by Eileen Ryan, a former assistant professor at SON who is a parish nurse at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in West Harwich and coordinator of Parish Nurses for Cape Cod, an organization based at St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River.

Panelists will include Assoc. Prof. Ellen Mahoney (SON), a parish nurse at United Riverside Congregational Church in Lawrence; Robert Short, director of parish-based health ministry for the Caritas Christi Health Care System; and Robin Whittemore, a parish nurse at the First Baptist Church of Mansfield in Storrs, Conn.

"The general public is realizing mind, body and spirit work together," said conference coordinator Assoc. Prof. Susan Chase (SON). "Parish nursing is an opportunity to put all those three together."

Chase described the parish nurse as "a nurse in a faith community who ministers to the body and mind wellness of fellow members of the community." In a church setting, the parish nurse might hold a staff position, performing duties such as blood-pressure readings, promoting nutrition and exercise programs, delivering hot meals, and arranging rides for the elderly or infirm. In a hospital setting, the parish nurse might pray with patients and help in making end-of-life decisions.

"This not a visiting nurse, but someone in the community a neighbor can call with a question or concern," said Chase. "Many people hesitate to 'bother' a doctor with a call over something small, but will call a parish nurse."

According to Chase, parish nursing began decades ago in the Lutheran churches in the Midwest and has since migrated to New England, where it has become an increasingly widespread practice among parishes of different denominations.

Chase is heading an informal SON task force that is gauging interest for a parish nursing program at Boston College. Made up of SON faculty members from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish backgrounds, the group is surveying registered nurses with an expressed interest in parish nursing to determine their needs in support programming.

The survey may result in regular evening networking meetings for parish nurses, Chase said, as well as the formation of a special section devoted to the field in the Kennedy Resource Center at SON. A long-term possibility may be the creation of a master's degree program in parish nursing, said Chase.

-Kathleen Sullivan and Mark Sullivan

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