Hospice partners with university to provide education for nurses

Collaboration benefits all sides

When the West Virginia School of Nursing needed a new instructor for its parish nursing Internet class, the woman who had been teaching the course approached two officials with Hospice Care Corp. of Arthurdale, WV.

"My supervisor, Malen Davis, and I were approached by Dr. Deborah Harr, who was the instructor of the parish nurse program at WVU, and she was a mutual acquaintance," says Robin Shepherd, MSN, CHPN, vice president of faculty and parish nurse programs for Hospice Care Corp.

"So we took the faculty training at the International Parish Nurse Center and also completed the basic nurse preparation course through WVU in order to be certified to teach," Shepherd says. "Then we began our first on-line course in late August 2005 with 15 students."

The hospice's parish nursing outreach has resulted in at least one referral to Hospice Care Corp., although there is the potential for many more referrals to hospices in the various regions in which parish nursing students live.

A local pastor referred Shepherd to a family where a member was gravely ill, and the family decided to request hospice care after meeting Shepherd, she says.

Since the parish nursing role is as an educator within faith communities, it's a natural fit for hospice work, Shepherd says.

"Parish nurses serve as community referral source and a linkage with parishioners," she says. "In my own church I'm working on a health fair in April with vendors and speakers and I'm coordinating it with hospice care."

"This is a link to our faith-based community because we're a community hospice," Shepherd says. "We've expanded to 12 counties and cover a lot of territory, and we're intimately involved with our communities."

The hospice staff can serve as resources for church congregations when needed, and this might mean providing educational sessions for the parish nurses on advanced directives or having a parish nurse contact the hospice when they need resources about a particular medication, Shepherd says.

"Or the parish nurse might call us to say, 'I have a person who needs someone to discuss hospice with him,'" she adds. "Hospices want to be seen as someone who can help."

Parish nurses work within the church to bring holistic health care services to the congregation, including spiritual support, education, home visitation, and health care information, Shepherd adds.

"The thing that is unique about this type of nursing and why it fits in with hospice care is because we use the holistic approach of mind, body, spirit to health care," Shepherd says. "And hospice uses the holistic approach to dying, so it's a short jump to hospice."

Hospice Care Corp. has had three staff members take the parish nursing training, and this is another way to increase the hospice's community outreach and visibility.

"It's absolutely worth investing in this training," Shepherd says. "If we're really providing spiritual care to our patients and families, why not share that with people who are not dying and help to educate them about their choices and resources when their time of life comes."

The parish nursing college program works this way: The university supplies technical support and has paired Shepherd with an information technologies employee. Together they placed the curriculum in a structure that works for on-line education, Shepherd explains.

"Basically the technical person and I sat down and altered the coursework to make it user-friendly on the computer," Shepherd says.

Students who would like to register for the class must apply and verify that they are registered nurses with two years of nursing experience, as well as submit two reference letters, including one from a clergy source, she says.

"The reason for this is to establish the student's spiritual maturity," Shepherd says. "You want to see some evidence of some kind of spiritual involvement because it's a ministry done through a faith community."

After the student's application is accepted, the student is told how to register on-line through WVU, and WVU sends Shepherd a list of students who have paid and registered for the course. She then mails them a textbook.

The course is for one semester, and there are 21 modules over 14 weeks. Each module is followed by an assignment and/or discussion board. The modules cover these topics:

  • Introduction to history and philosophy of parish nursing;
  • introduction to health, healing, and wholeness in the faith community;
  • ethics in parish nursing;
  • legal issues and accountability in parish nursing;
  • assessment: individual, family, congregation;
  • functions of the parish nurse: personal health counselor;
  • functions of the parish nurse: integrator of faith and health (spiritual caregiver);
  • function of the parish nurse: health educator;
  • function of the parish nurse: health advocate;
  • function of the parish nurse: referral agent;
  • function of the parish nurse: coordinator of volunteers;
  • function of the parish nurse: assessing and developing support groups;
  • getting started;
  • functioning within a ministerial team;
  • health promotion and wellness;
  • prayer and worship leader;
  • grief and loss;
  • end-of-life transitions;
  • family violence;
  • documentation, and
  • self-care for parish nurses.

"The students have a week to complete the assignments, and there are some questions placed on line so students can answer questions and discuss their viewpoints back and forth with one another," Shepherd says.

"There is also an opportunity for them to chat on-line if they choose to do so," she says. "I access all emailed assignments, which are submitted every week, and I read the on-line discussion questions and will give input when it's appropriate to do so."

When Shepherd receives a student's assignment that is particularly outstanding, then she will email the student and ask them to share it with other students, and then she'll email it to all participants.

"Some students have done extraordinary work," Shepherd says.

For instance, one assignment is to design a healing service. "I found in the first semester that they were so beautifully written and inspiring that I wrote all the students to see if I could share all of them, and the students were thrilled," Shepherd recalls.

"I did the same thing with their final project, which was to design a parish nurse program for their congregation, listing three priorities for the first six months of practice," she says. "So they're building on what they're learning for the entire course, and they can take the information and put it into practice."

For the grief and loss module, one assignment was for students to describe and discuss the experience they had with a dying person, Shepherd says.

"Those were some of the most moving stories," she says. "You could see where they made the connection from health care ministry and dying."

So far, most of the students have been from West Virginia, although there have been students from as far away as Vermont who've signed up for the course, Shepherd notes.

"A lot of students have told me they love the on-line course because it's conducive to their lifestyle," she adds.

Need More Information?

  • Robin Shepherd, MSN, CHPN, Vice President, Parish Nurse Programs, Hospice Care Corporation, P.O. Box 760, Arthurdale, WV 26520. Telephone: (304) 864-0884, ext. 20. Email: rshepherd@hospicecarecorp.org.