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'Spiritual comfort is a large factor in many people’s lives'


Nursing Times blogger Stuart Young on the Pope’s visit and the role of religion in nursing care.

Living in Birmingham the visit of Pope Benedict XVI caused a small amount of traffic relocation; yes I was on of those people last Sunday morning that forgot all about the visit of the Pontiff even though I had been watching news coverage before I left the house. Yes I know I really should have been thinking ahead.

The following day a group of friends and I were talking in the student union lounge and the conversation moved on to subject of the papal visit, and the debate of whether he was worth a state visit, whether the visit meant anything to people who had no faith at all, or people who were from the protestant church’s. As the conversation developed I found myself listening to the words of others and realising that none of us were thinking as nurses.

How often do we admit a patient into the care of nursing staff and go through the standard admission questionnaire, asking information that ticks a set of boxes around the activities of daily living including faith and that is as far as we go? Is looking after the spiritual needs of our patient just to ask if they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, or other?

Over my last two years of training I have been in the situation of admitting patients and have often asked the question about religious beliefs and then only ever thought about this aspect of my patient should they take a turn for the worse and needed spiritual comfort.

Spiritual comfort is a large factor in many people’s lives, look at the number of pilgrims in Cofton Park (Birmingham), Hyde Park (London) and Bellahouston Park (Glasgow) to see the Pope. I understand that nursing at a patient holistically is what we are taught in university, but more often than not when we go out onto clinical practice we get caught up in the other areas of care, wound care, medication management, fluid balances, observations and documentation.

We know patients need more than just clinical interventions; they need a holistic support to improve their health. This is why nursing numbers are so important, we often debate if we as a profession are an art or a science or a delicate balance of the two. To keep this balance we need enough time to complete our clinical duties (science) and look after the holistic needs (art) of our patients.

I saw a banner being held up on the televised parts of the pope’s visit, changing WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) a campaign that has been running for many years to WWPD (What Would Pope Do). After reflecting over how I as a student nurse practice, and heading into my final couple of placements I think WWPD should stand for What Would Patient Do in their spiritual lives outside the care setting, and from now on I will always think WWPD and try and ensure that their needs are addressed through out there delivery of care.

About the author

Stuart Young is a third year student nurse and RCN student member of council


Readers' comments (5)

  • Martyn Butcher

    I read Stuart's comments with interest, not because I am religeous but because spiritual needs like so many other issues (like sexuality) are frequently overlooked in the NHS's push to being "more streamlined".
    The fact is that religeon has become one of those "no-go" areas. This is strange when you think that both medicine and nursing stem from religeon-based ideals.
    In recent months we have witnessed nurses feeling victimised for showing signs of their own faith and have seen controversy when nurses have offered to "pray with" their patients at times of distress.
    My point here is not that we should all kneel at the sides of our patients beds (as a non-believer that would be the last thing I'd do) or attempt to ram our own ideals down our patients throats, but rather that nursing should not be frightened to address some of these issues, and we as nurses should not be penalised for having our own views and ideas on the subject.

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  • I agree wholeheartedly with both Stuart and Martyn's take on this situation. I am a registered nurse, but also have a BA in theology. It was the attainment of the latter which was the catalyst in my entering nursing in order that I could Help Others without prejudice and regardless of their beliefs. It may sound a bit corny to some, but its 'the truth'. I have to say, however, that on times my road has been difficult because we dont all 'Think alike', we are individuals and should be prepared to make allowances for each other. Bearing this in mind, I do believe, that An 'Holistic' approach should encompass the patients' physical, mental and spiritual needs. Can we get an up to date 'Definition' of 'A Nurse'? It would help us all if we could, especially our students, who, if Stuart is anything to go by are a level headed bunch. Lets have some 'happy' patients out there. Go for it Stuart.

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  • Spirituality has no place in nursing and should not. I have neither the time nor patience to do anything other than acknowledge their beliefs as something to write down on their admission paperwork.

    It is up to them, not me to make their religious needs known as clearly the NHS defines itself as irreligious - something that ought to be remembered and respected itself.

    My job is to maintain safety and restore function only.

    Of course religion might be important to them, but it has little to no bearing on my role and job. I am not employed as a pastoral worker and am ony goin to work off of evidence and things i can measure.
    The furthest i am going to go is contactng priests etc but only if i am asked.

    This isn't going to help the author in practice and it certainly won't help his patients who 99.95 of the time will be asking for drugs and physical assitancerather than deliverance by a higher power. This all sounds good on paper, but the reality of the situation is we, not religious entities do the actual work - so why give God, Allah, Yehdua, Ra, nobody the credit?

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  • Spirituality absolutely has a place in nursing in my opinion, as it underpins, for a lot of people, the reason for choosing to be a nurse. I'm unnerved by the apparent lack of a spirituality in people who are in a caring job, which also includes athiesm and agnostic. Spirituality is not religion and needs to be recognised as such. I find it disturbing frankly, when people are incapable of parking their chosen belief, or the opposite of aggressive no belief, in doing their job.

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  • I think that the holistic approach/awareness in assisting in a doctor, nurse, carer is important and can assist in healing due to the relief and peace it can give to the individual. Some nurses, for example, may not have any particular religious belief, but this should not detract from the need and right of the patient, to have the freedom of practising and expressing in a non disturbing manner, any legally allowed credence, via a visit from one of their pastors.rabbis , family members etc. Just as a particular diet, prescription is made suitable for the ailment, so these particular needs might need to be ministered and be made aware of.. Perhaps the contact details of each religious credence in that particular area could be made easily available to be contacted should the patient so request a visit..Such positive means to alleviate stress may assist in relieving pain, and promote healing..

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