How Christian Nurses Can Reach Patients

As a nurse, your role puts you directly in the middle of some people’s most traumatic life experiences. As a Christian, you have an opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel with your patients to not only care for their physical body but for their eternal spirit as well.

But not everyone or every setting is open to having you share your faith explicitly. Figuring out how to be of comfort to your patients as a Christian nurse, especially in light of your faith, can be difficult. It’s something we talk about often with nursing students to help think through these situations and get a grasp on reaching patients early.

Here are four different perspectives on how Christian nurses can reach patients from faculty within our school of nursing.

Brenda Ulmen, assistant professor of nursing
In this day and age, talking about God and asking about someone’s faith is sometimes seen as offensive, so I purposely wear a cross necklace that is visible to my patients so they know they can broach the subject with me. When patients see my cross, many times the conversation starts as a compliment. When they recognize it and mention the beauty of it, I share how my husband bought it for me when we were dating. Sharing a little bit of our personal lives many times encourages patients to open up about theirs.

When I worked in oncology delivering outpatient chemotherapy, I get very close to my patients because I saw them on a more frequent basis. I found many patients opened up and wanted to discuss their faith and spirituality as they faced a life-threatening disease. We talked about favorite Bible verses, even getting out the Bible and reading through Scripture. We prayed for one another as stories about our families/difficulties were shared. Sometimes I printed out a Bible verse and had it waiting on their table when they arrived—something that I knew would speak to them based on the trouble they were going through. If I was busy and patients just needed someone to talk to, I’d call the chaplain or a volunteer to come and talk with our patients; loneliness and isolation can lead to depression. I wanted the patients to feel like they had “family” to support them during one of the hardest times of their life.

The last thing I share with my students about sharing the love of God is praying for each and every patient/family member you encounter when you go home at night. Matthew 6:3 says: “But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Even if you work somewhere where you are forbidden to pray with patients or discuss faith/spirituality with your patients, nobody can take away your free will to pray. I encourage you to pray.

Carol Lueders Bolwerk, professor of nursing and director of parish nursing
I am a Christian nurse serving mankind in mind, body, and spirit. I have had the opportunity to serve my patients and families in spirit using a back door approach. For instance, I have asked patients a simple question: “Should I put you on my prayer list?” This opens the door for conversation in how I can meet spiritual needs.

When people are lying in bed with time to think, many reflect on the meaning of life as well as their relationships with others and also to their God. The twin skills that I use is that of listening and reassurance. I listen to their needs, and anxieties and respond with reassuring them of my support but also support from their family, their pastors, and their own God. I reassure them that they are not alone using the ministry of presence by silently holding their hand.

I also take note if they are wearing a cross, or have a body tattoo of a cross or Bible verse or another Christian symbol. This is another way that I open the door. I begin the conversation in a way that focuses on the beautiful cross they are wearing or simply say, “Tell me your story of your tattoo.” This connects them on a personal level, and if they want to share a story they well. I always offer a visit from a chaplain, a Bible, a devotion, or if I can say a prayer for them or with them. In the end, I know that I have lessened their pain and anxiety and listened to their grief and sorrow.

Jill M. Krell, assistant professor of nursing
I believe that any nurse or nursing student can bring faith to the workplace by caring for patients and families in a loving, Christian manner. Treating patients with respect, dignity, and compassion is the first step in displaying Christ-like characteristics. Offering to simply be there when patients and/or families are struggling with an illness or having to make life-altering decisions is Christ-like and demonstrates a Christian who is living there faith.

It’s amazing how when patients and/or families are given “permission” to talk about their faith with you they are more than willing to do so. Or if given the offer to have someone pray with them patients/families will take you up on the offer. But I truly believe actions do speak louder than words & as the song goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Julie Parve, associate professor of graduate nursing
Many times you see patients at the worst time in their lives. I see this as a privilege and a time to share the love of Christ with them.

You can share it in several ways. 1) Show them the love of Christ by being a good listener and really caring about them. 2) If they are feeling down or afraid, you can ask them if you can pray for them or let them know that you will be praying for them. 3) Always be ready to ask if they would like you to contact their religious leader. This shows that you care about their spiritual health as well as their physical health.

How You Care for Patients
What has been your experience as a Christian nurse in caring for your patients? Are there special approaches you take to ensure that you reach your patients appropriately with the Gospel? We hope that these faculty recommendations will give you some practical tools that you can use as you serve at the bedside.

We know that caring for patients every day can be exhausting; it’s easy to become numb to the pain that you see every day for the sake of preserving your own well-being. But experiencing compassion fatigue can lead to more serious problems in both your life and your career if it remains unchecked. See if you’re experiencing the symptoms.

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