Lori Floyd in the chapel at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville.
Photo: Phil Skinner for the AJC
Photo: Phil Skinner for the AJC

Faith community nursing

Where healthcare and spirituality converge

Faith community nursing may arguably be one of the least understood concentrations in the nursing field. Ask Lori Floyd, who works at Gwinnett Medical Center, and she’ll quickly tell you it’s not simply working in a church and dishing out first aid.

As Floyd describes it, faith community nursing is the convergence of healthcare and spirituality. Matters of health and wellness combine with spiritual practice and education. This could range from end-of-life counseling to creating health-conscious programming and events at a church. While many do work in the church setting, others can be found in nontraditional environments, including locally at Stone Mountain Park.

Floyd knows this world from the inside out. She currently serves as the clinical nurse educator in Gwinnett Medical Center’s faith community nursing department. This finds her assisting the department manager in the development, organization and management of the faith community nursing program on behalf of the hospital and local churches.

She also waves the flag for faith community nursing by providing education and support for the department. On the education front, she plans, coordinates, presents and evaluates the Foundations of Faith Community Nursing course administered at Gwinnett Medical Center. Her department recommends this course for all nurses practicing as a faith community nurse in any setting. She also arranges continuing education for staff nurses and orientation for those new to the department.

Previously, she worked as the faith community nurse at Gainesville First United Methodist Church in Gainesville. And on top of it all, she currently serves as president of the Georgia Faith Community Nursing Association, an organization that strives to preserve, support and advance this type of nursing practice throughout the state.

Recently, we chatted with Floyd over the phone to learn more about this niche.

On integrating spirituality with health and wellness:

“The whole idea is the care of the mind, body and spirit. Those are the three things we focus on. Obviously you’ve got the physical, and you’ve got the mental. We all know the mind is a really powerful thing, but there’s also the spirit. I’m a Christian, and I believe strongly in the spiritual side. I do believe that everybody has a spirit whether they acknowledge it as a Christian thing (or not.) We all have a spirit that needs to be fed. Part of what faith community nurses do is try to address that and keep it balanced. If one area suffers, they all do. If you’re sick at heart, you’re probably going to end up physically ill. If you have a physical illness, often times you get stressed and get depressed. So there’s so much interconnectivity that really doesn’t require a pill or an operation. It just takes some time, prayer and presence to get through the tough times.”

On the role of the Georgia Faith Community Nursing Association:

“The organization was created to support nurses who are practicing faith community nurses in a church or some other type of setting so they can have resources. You really are kind of like an island, and it’s challenging because you are out there with virtually no support. There really aren’t too many people who can help you if you have a question. Very few people understand what the role is, and even some nurses don’t know what a faith community nurse is. People think you’re a nurse in a church, but that’s really not what it is at all. Your role is not putting on Band-Aids and doing first aid. It’s personal health counseling, setting up wellness programs and all kinds of things. So we wanted to provide resources and support for those out there who are practicing.”

On the faith community nursing department at Gwinnett Medical Center:

“Our department really consists of a manager, myself as the nurse educator and an administrative assistant who supports us. We work in the medical office building. In the hospital, Gwinnett Medical Center has a faith community nurse navigator who works with their faith community network, which is a network of churches affiliated with the hospital. That’s a whole other program. Churches sign an agreement and the department holds registration events so they can be a part of the faith community network. And so that system gets activated when the patient comes into the hospital. That’s when the faith community nurse navigator makes contact with those patients. If they want to have their pastor notified, she will let them know. If they don’t, then they won’t. Every occurrence is different. Not everyone wants their church notified. But it allows the faith community to mobilize resources within that faith community like meals, transportation, visits to the home and that sort of thing. So it’s like a support network. It’s a really cool thing.”

On what she likes about faith community nursing:

“I’ve done a lot of things in my career and by far it’s my favorite. It’s amazing the impact you can have. For me, the most rewarding aspect was all the relationships you establish with church members and clients. I left Gainesville First as a nurse more than two years ago, and I still get calls from members, especially the older adults. But I didn’t just work with adults. I did hand washing training for the preschool kids, and I was over the recreation and fitness ministry. You do a lot of different things. I would do blood pressure screenings and arrange blood drives. I was part of the pastoral care team and did a lot of praying. It was great, because I got to work closely with the pastors. I got to do a lot of things I would have never gotten to have done in a traditional setting. It’s very rewarding when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or a serious illness, or someone who has lost a spouse or a child. You can’t really give a pill for that. But hearing their story and allowing them to share their concerns in a therapeutic way is just amazing. And you pray with them. Sometimes we say, ‘The least I can do is pray.’ Well, that’s actually one of the first things we do.”

For more information on the Georgia Faith Community Nurses Association, visit: gfcna.org.

SIDEBAR

The Georgia Faith Community Nursing Association put together a list of the seven major roles of a faith community nurse. They are:

1. Health Educator: This focuses on a variety of educational activities for all ages that explore the relationship between values, attitudes, lifestyle, faith and health.

2. Personal Health Counselor: They assist individuals dealing with health issues and problems, and may include hospital, home or nursing home visits.

3. Referral Agent: This means providing congregational and community resources for healing and wellness.

4. Health Advocate: They encourage all systems (congregant, faith community, primary health resources) to find the best solution for healing and wholeness in body, mind and spirit.

5. Facilitator of Volunteers: The nurses recruit and coordinate resources within the faith community to serve in its various health ministries.

6. Developer of Support Groups: They facilitate the development of support groups to meet member needs and those of the external community.

7. Integrator of Faith and Health: The nurses seek, in all activities and contacts, to promote the understanding of the relationship between faith and health.

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