When Annie Valerio, coordinator of the Congregational Nurse program at Atlanticare Medical Center interviews a potential candidate, she is able to intuit whether or not they are a good fit for the role. “When I speak to someone who is interested, it is as if they enable me to see into their soul. Most of the nurses who show interest are just right- you can see the wholesome glow of their spirituality,” she said.
Valerio has been a Faith Community Nurse for the past seven years at Blessed John the 23rd parish in Blue Anchor, NJ. The role of a congregational nurse is purely voluntary and the candidates must be willing to invest time in the life of the parish by consistent church attendance and participation.
For Valerio, it is a joy to be a congregational nurse, and therefore she is passionate about encouraging other nurses to take part in the program. In essence, the role of a Faith Community Nurse is that of a healthcare advocate for congregants. The obligations of a Faith Community Nurses are various and challenging.
The mission itself is to provide outreach to the parish and be responsible for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs to all entrusted to FCN. In addition, the nurses are expected to offer compassionate care in relation to today’s healthcare and environment. They also serve as personal health care counselors to the congregation at large, as well as acting as a liaison to the community. Sometimes it can be an unenviable position. “When a Faith Community Nurse starts or enhances an existing health care ministry, at first, there is little, or no response from the congregation, but we are tenacious and continue our mission,” she said.
Faith Community Nurses start with offering Blood Pressure screenings and advance to Health Fairs and eventually, the congregation begins to feel more comfortable and trusting. “What I hear most is what the nurse enjoys doing most- taking time and helping the congregant navigate the health care system in coordination with their body system,” she said.
Within the health care profession, the work of a Faith Community Nurse can be extremely rewarding, however some nurses may find they already have an overextended workload, so they have to consider taking on the role at a later time. “Faith Community Nursing is designed to build on and strengthen the capacities of others, and to help congregations understand and care for each other in light of their relationship to God,” Valerio explained.