Dahm, Janet

Historically, nursing has recognized the importance of meeting the holistic needs of patients including spiritual care. Florence Nightingale believed that “spirituality is intrinsic to human nature and is our deepest and most potent resource for healing” (Macrae, 1995, P.8). In the mid-twentieth century, the academic debate considering whether nursing is an art or science led toward a more scientific and theory based profession. With continued changes in the health care system, including the advent of managed care, reduced staffing and increased responsibilities at the bedside, nurses were becoming more conscious of the need to focus on cost effective and outcome based interventions. Spiritual care was becoming perceived as the role of the chaplain and not the nurse.

Within the past twenty years, there has been an expanding body of literature and research regarding the relationship of spirituality to health and professional nursing practice. Several scholars explored spirituality as an important dimension of holistic nursing practice (Barnum, 1996; Carson, 1989; Emblen, 1992; Lane, 1987; Roy, 1988; Stoll, 1979; Watson, 1985, 1988).

Numerous studies indicate the positive relationship between faith and health outcomes (Hudson, 1996; Nelson, 1990, Restak, 1989), and in the care of specific patient populations including; adult hospice and oncology patients (Carson, 1997; Cowartd, 1997; Highfield, 1997), pediatric hospice and oncology patients (Hart & Schneiger, 1997; Sommer, 1989), the elderly and the process of aging (Johnson, 1997; Leetun, 1996, Kerrigan & Harkulich, 1993; Schonbeck, 1994), addiction (Bristow-Braitman, 1995), women (Burkhart, 1994; Miller, 1995), caregivers (Forbes, 1994; Harrington, Lackey, & Gates, 1996), AIDS patients (Sherman, 1996), and pediatric patients and their families (Fina, 1995).

In the summer of 1991, a ‘spiritual think-tank’ including nursing faculty from four different nursing programs in Chicago, an ordained minister from a major medical center, the director of a parish nursing ministry and two other nurses actively engaged in health ministry, came together at the International Parish Nurse Resource Center in Park Ridge to explore a new program of study which would formalize the link between health ministry and nursing. At that first meeting, none of the participants realized that they would be forging a partnership which continues into the 21st Century. The original goal was the preparation of nurses with a joint masters in nursing and divinity, MSN-M.Div. The nursing major would have the option of enrolling in one of the theological seminaries which had already created joint competency programs, the MSW-M.Div and the J.D.-M. Div degrees through the Association of Theological seminaries. The joint degree could also be obtained through the partnership of the Niehoff School of Nursing and Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University.

In addition to the prescribed program of studies, students would participate in a series of three integrative seminars. The seminars would emphasize the challenges of the world of practice, in which students would share with others the spiritual expression of a life that calls us, in the words of Henri No-win, “to live a compassionate life in the community become disciples-living manifestations of God’s presence in the world” (1979, p. 132). We soon realized that we were embarking on a great adventure. Students came to the table from all of the participating schools, all practice areas of nursing, and many levels of educational preparation. This was a place where doctoral students met with master’s students, and even later in the process with baccalaureate students to share the quest of the life of the spirit. Later still, other students came from theology, occupational therapy, public health and the seminary. New partners from theology, ministry, community advocacy, and the arts came to share their special gifts with us. Nursing students and faculty from the original four schools, Loyola University, North Park University, Rush University and Saint Xavier University were jointed by Lewis University, Elmhurst College and the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The three part Seminar Series integrated both the theoretical and practice dimensions of spiritual caring, having an overall theme of comprehensive mind, body and spiritual care. Each of the three seminars met once a week for ten weeks. The emphasis of the first seminar was the integration of health and faith through the use of self. The second seminar explored the faith community as a place of health and healing. The third seminar focused on faith in action, exploring programs at the local, national and international levels developed to serve the needs of communities and special populations.

As faculty we hoped for transformation to take place in our students. We had no idea of the transformation which would occur in us. There was an amazing experience of ‘living in the now’ which took place each week. Everyone who came and joined at the table, faculty, presenters and students a like, brought with them a great richness of resources, literature, programs, sources of continuing education in holistic care, and films. A spontaneous, unique and generative sharing of relationships occurred. We experienced the truth in Johnson’s words “Spirituality focuses on what happens in the heart” (1998, p.5). Each and every member of the seminar series contributed to the development of a resource bibliography for the series, which now numbers eighty pages.

Indeed, dual degree programs did emerge. In addition to Loyola’s MSN-M.Div with the Institute of Pastoral Studies, North Park University now offers the dual competency program, MSN-MA degree, in partnership with the North Park Theological Seminary. Additionally, North Park offers a certificate in Faith and Health and on-line programs of continuing education as well. Rush University also developed a certificate in Spirituality and Health.

Many changes have taken place since that fateful 1991 meeting. Nursing literature in spirituality has expanded significantly. New faculty have come to share the dream and the seminar series itself has been reformatted into two seminars rather than three. The College of Nursing, University of Illinois-Chicago has generously provided a consistent site so that students can gather from all parts of the city to a central location. The nature of the series, however, continues to fashion itself after the intent of the original organizers. The series is unique in that demonstrates a multi-disciplinary and collaborative effort on the part of seven nursing universities in the Chicago-land area, with common enthusiasms and engagements despite differences of faith traditions and professional specialties. The participating schools and practitioners invited us to their worlds of scholarship and practice. We became a community of co-learners interested in enhancing our knowledge of spiritual care and health ministries. We learned that Nurses wish to reclaim their spiritual rootedness for their own practice. Approximately 300 students have participated in the seminar series since 1992. Those generous partners who for these past eleven years have shared with us their special expertise and commitment to the life of the Spirit are acknowledged with gratitude. You have enriched our lives in countless measure.

Authors of Health Ministries article:

Penny Cukr, Janet Dahm, Mary Denny, Cissy Diaz, Linda Edwards, Gloria Henderson, Tom Mainor, Bill Myers, Bob O’Gorman, Mary Ann McDermott, Marilyn O’Rourke, Kathleen Shanks, Lynda Slimmer, Janice Smith, Ann Solari-Twadell, Joan Zetterlund, Mary Chase Ziolek.


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