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Research in parish nursing practice - it's about time!

The specialty practice of parish nursing began as an "experimental project" by Granger Westberg 25 years ago. Today there are an estimated 10,000-12,000 parish nurses in the United States according to data extrapolated from the International Parish Nurse Resource Center (IPNRC) basic preparation course completion records. Parish nurses can also be found in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Wales, Scotland, Korea, Swaziland, South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Bahamas, with a number of other countries exploring the concept presently. Parish nurses practice in traditional congregational settings and non-traditional settings including senior centers, hospice, and day care centers. A number are employed directly by congregations, while others are hospital employees who are engaged in faith-based settings. Approximately half of all parish nurses are nonstipendiary, although the percentage of parish nurses paid a stipend or salary for their work continues to grow.

Despite the depth and breadth of practice, there is very little research about parish nurses and parish nursing. A quick search of one of the nursing databases, CINAHL or Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, reveals 2 or 3 studies a year over the past several years. I periodically search the databases, as I know others do, hoping..... hoping that some new research articles will appear, but few do.

In an attempt to remedy this absence of scholarly research, the IPNRC in 2006 issued an open invitation to faculty of our educational affiliates to come to St. Louis for a research meeting. Seventeen nursing faculty came to the first meeting and an additional 9 faculty, who were unable to attend, offered to help if needed. At the meeting, we brainstormed research ideas, formulated research questions, and developed 3 projects for 2007. Some progress on the projects was made in 2007--not as much as we had hoped--but new groups undergo growing pains as members work to make sure projects are thoughtfully planned. The ultimate goal is to describe who we are as parish nurses and what we do and then to share that with others--other nursing specialties, other health care colleagues, those we serve, and those with whom we work. Publishing our findings for use by others is the end point and the path takes careful thought and planning.

One project, a survey evaluating the 2004 Basic Parish Nurse Preparation Curriculum was conducted and the analysis completed in 2007. In February 2008 an open invitation was extended to faculty to attend a curriculum meeting and discuss the findings of the survey. Based on the results of the survey, a proposed revision was outlined. This revision will have changes in both format and content. Faculty are currently reviewing the work of the committee and submitting comments on the proposed changes. More information on the revision will be shared in future issues of Perspectives.

A second project that was identified by one of the groups was spiritual assessment. This core value in parish nursing was determined to be central to practice and important to research since it makes us who we are. A pilot study was conducted at the 2007 Westberg Symposium to examine the reliability and validity of two spiritual assessment instruments. More than 100 attendees picked up the survey in the exhibit hall and 67 parish nurses completed the instruments. More information on this project is in the Winter 2008 issue of Perspectives written by Dr. Maggie Miller who designed the project and analyzed the results.

The third project suggested in 2007 was to examine best practices in parish nursing practice. Taking blood pressures was identified as the specific practice to focus on. During the year the plan was discussed, developed, and reviewed by several faculty. However, we were unable to bring this project to implementation.

The second annual research meeting was held March 28 and 29 in St. Louis. Again a call went out to IPNRC faculty to come and discuss the 2007 projects and identify new projects for 2008 (a list of those in attendance at the meeting appears at the end of this article). Some of those who attended the 2008 meeting attended the meeting the previous year and were able to continue on their projects. It is amazing to me that faculty willingly give up their weekend to come to St. Louis and discuss research and all admit it is both intellectually challenging and fun!

Small groups worked on several projects that will be conducted in 2008. Maggie Miller reviewed the work on the spiritual assessments and, along with Kathie Blanchfield, Karen Marks, and Carrie Whyte, designed a plan to look more closely at spirituality within a specific population, and determine how parish nurses support spiritual health. More on this project will appear in IPNRC eNotes within the next several months.

Mary Jo Bay, Pam Deres, Gayle Donahue, and Deb Waring completed the design on the blood pressure project. This will be an experimental study designed to examine the health impact of blood pressure screenings and follow-up in faith communities. The study will be conducted in cities in New Hampshire, Oregon, Ohio, and Colorado. More on this project will be in both IPNRC eNotes and Perspectives.

Another project was identified to examine parish nurse practice. This topic was discussed briefly in 2007 but not developed. This year we feel like we are in a place to examine this further. A survey will be designed to obtain demographic information along with information on strengths and barriers to parish nurse practice. All parish nurses will have the opportunity to participate in this study. Faculty who worked on this project include Myrna Cassimere, Paulette Golden, Sheila Grigsby, Tammy Kiser, JoVeta Wescott, and Ruth Williams.

We are in the process of obtaining Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval from the colleges/universities and health care systems involved in the data collection for each of the studies. More detailed information about the projects along with how you can participate will be shared in eNotes and Perspectives. The research committee will meet again in 2009. Both the spiritual assessment project and survey examining the practice of parish nursing have the potential for additional studies.

This is an exciting time for parish nursing and I am confident that we will soon have data from several research projects. I challenge you as parish nurses to also do research. I know that there are programs and interventions implemented on a daily basis that could be systematically examined and the outcomes reported. Wouldn't it be amazing to search the nursing databases for parish nursing research articles and find more than just two or three but five or six or more in one year! We can do research and we need to do research in parish nursing to validate our practice and set it apart as a specialty unlike any other.

Faculty who attended the 2008 Research Meeting: Margaret E. Miller, PhD, RN, Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY., co chair; Mary Jo Bay, PhD, RN, Beth-El College of Nursing & Health Sciences, Colorado Springs, CO; Kathleen Blanchfield, PhD, MPS, RN, Faculty, Lewis University and Parish Nurse, Advocate Health Care Oak Park, IL; Myrna Cassimere, RN, PhD, The McFarland Institute, New Orleans, LA; Pamela Deres, RN, MSN, St. Joseph's Hospital, Nashua, NH; Gayle Donahue, MSN, RN, Fairview Hospital, Cleveland, OH; Paulette Golden, RN, MS, Harris Methodist Forth Worth Hospital, Fort Worth, TX; Sheila Grigsby, RN, MSN (R), MPH, Deaconess Parish Nurse Ministries, St. Louis, MO; Tammy Kiser RN, MSN, ADCP Nursing Coordinator, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA; Karen Marks, RN, BA, MTS, ICHM Ontario Regional Parish Nurse Coordinator, Chair, Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry, Ontario, Canada; Debbie Waring MSN, RN, Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries, Portland, OR; JoVeta Wescott, RN, MSHA, Kansas Parish Nurse Ministry, Inc, Wichita, KS; Carrie Whyte, BSN, RN, Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA; and Ruth Williams, RN, MSN, Viterbo University, Richland Center, WI

By Barbara Wehling, RN, PhD
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Author:Wehling, Barbara
Publication:Parish Nurse Perspectives
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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