Gannon University Nurses Pioneer New Specialization

Faith Community NursesPosted: January 7, 2014

There are school nurses, hospital nurses, private-duty nurses, hospice nurses and flight nurses, among many other specialties. Add to these familiar categories the emerging specialty of faith community nurses.

Just ask Diann Cooper and Gary Berringer, both members of the faculty at Gannon University's Villa Maria School of Nursing. They became interested in the discipline when they attended the Foundations of Faith Community Nursing Program in Pittsburgh two years ago.

Cooper described the Pittsburgh program as, "a training program for nurses who were interested in a more spiritual spin on nursing. That spiritual aspect is near and dear to my heart, so I went through the training so that I could also train other nurses or people to start programs in their own churches."

The nurses learn to work as members of a pastoral team, assisting the members of a faith community to maintain and/or regain wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. The goal is to combine the scientific knowledge that licensed, registered nurses have acquired with an additional focus on the intentional care of the spirit. Faith community nurses employ the nursing process to determine the needs that others in the faith community might have, and then assist them in finding and accessing resources to meet those needs.

Cooper is a leader in a partnership of faith community nurses in Erie who meet regularly to advance the discipline in the area-- promoting the concept, sharing ideas, and providing support for the three-dozen or so local practitioners.

"There's a healing portion of this, a huge prayer portion, and a blessing portion where you're commissioned and you go forth," Cooper said of the training. "It's a very intense thing-not cognitively, because the content of the classes is not foreign to nurses, but you get close to the spirits of the people in the room. You can feel the energy, and we love seeing each other and helping each other. It's just cool!"

Cool enough that at Cooper's suggestion, Gannon University is collaborating with Saint Vincent Health Center and Mercy Parish Nurse and Health Ministry Program to offer a six-day Foundations of Faith Community Nursing course in Erie. The program includes training during which spirituality, professionalism (communication and ethics), holistic health and community are discussed, as well as healing and sending-forth ceremonies.

Future plans include additional training programs and partnering with Saint Vincent Health Center's new Health Ministries Resource Center.

"I'm a teacher and I just love to teach," Cooper said. "I have found my niche in the world, and I love to serve, teaching others to serve others in what is their second home. My bigger family is my church, so the fact that I can be of service and train others to do the same brings a smile to my face and makes me feel as though I'm accomplishing something."

To learn more about Faith Community Nursing go to www.parishnurses.org.