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Alison Gadsby: ‘Being sensitive to spiritual beliefs is part of holistic care’

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There’s an emphasis these days on nursing being a progressive and dynamic profession, with its members continually gaining new skills and redefining their roles. Quite right too, I hear you say, and I would certainly echo that sentiment.

There’s an emphasis these days on nursing being a progressive and dynamic profession, with its members continually gaining new skills and redefining their roles. Quite right too, I hear you say, and I would certainly echo that sentiment.

There’s also a focus on ‘holism’, that word to throw in if ever other words fail you in an interview. ‘I always nurse holistically,’ you may say, nodding wisely, ensuring you won’t be seen as the nurse who takes the blood pressure of people in beds 1 to 5, never actually asking any of their names but always completing the task in good time.

But what does ‘holistic’ mean? I think that the more medical and scientific nursing has become, the less room there is for holistic care. And the area where we mostly fall short is acknowledging that many patients have a faith that informs their lives, arguably never more so than when they are unwell.

And it is ironic that we as nurses should fall short in this area when our profession was founded on a faith, the one called Christianity. Any avid readers of books on the history of nursing will know that both Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole undertook their pioneering work because of a faith in God, which both compelled them to undertake the work of caring and underpinned the work that they did.

My colleagues in mental health may be interested to know that the Bethlem Royal Hospital began life as a priory, with people of faith translating their beliefs into action.
Christians are called to care for the sick and broken. Does that call sound familiar? So I wonder how it is that sometimes it can seem like we as nurses have lost the fundamental nature of our call. So many nurses I know describe their work as a vocation, something that is a part of their nature – which is exactly how Christians describe their work, whatever it may be.

How can this translate into a secular workplace? If our job is to care, how can it be right to overlook faiths, which may be as essential to well-being as being in a comfortable environment and receiving the right research-based treatment?

I know assessment documentation has a box to tick about spirituality but it isn’t ok to tick this box and then think, ‘job done, don’t have to talk about that tricky stuff again’. We have a responsibility to ensure that those who we nurse can express their faith while being cared for, not least because our profession has its roots in the expression of faith. Take time to talk to those you care for, to find out how you can help them to express their faith at a time when the need for them to do so may be at its greatest.

Alison Gadsby is a mental health nurse
in Cambridge


NEXT WEEK: Brian Belle-Fortune on the amazing work of ‘the unknown nurse’

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