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Parish nurses help patients spiritually

LAWRENCEVILLE - For those looking to make a difference in the lives of strangers, the medical field is an attractive option to consider.

But for Gwinnett Medical Center's 13 parish nurses, their job goes beyond medical know-how. They are also spiritual guidance counselors, helping patients and their families cope during life's darkest moments through the power of the supernatural.

GMC's parish nurses serve under the hospital's Congregational Health Ministry, which combines the personal and material resources of the hospital, area congregations and the community on behalf of people living in Gwinnett County and surrounding areas.

Parish nurses serve a variety of functions, including personal health counseling, health education, facilitating volunteers, screenings, referrals to community resources, hospital and home visits, support groups and health promotion, according to program director Jean Holley, a registered nurse. Usually, she said, patients come to a parish nurse with a health concern, whether it is an upcoming surgery, a recent diagnosis, or a question a doctor has not answered. From there, the nurse addresses the emotional and spiritual impact of the concern. Chances are, they are deep-rooted voids, filled with pain and uncertainty.

Their services are much in demand: In a recent nine-month span, GMC's 13 parish nurses and their volunteer ranks served nearly 80,000 people in the metro area.

Mary Cooper, a Barrow County resident, has been a parish nurse with GMC since 1999. She calls it her "dream job."

"It's my true calling in my life," Cooper said. "What I see happening is that I am able to impact people in a way that I never could in a hospital. I am able to address spiritual and emotional issues that were never OK to address in a medical setting ... even though I can't take away cancer, I can help that person become more grounded in their identity."

About 30 parish nurses throughout the southeast - including nine from GMC - recently attended a training workshop at a Sandy Springs church. There, they sharpened their skills and even learned how to heal themselves after being inundated with the concerns of thousands of those in need of guidance and strength.

Though GMC's Congregational Health Ministry is nondenominational, it is largely a Christian operation with churches of Presbyterian, Christian, Baptist, Methodist faith. Holley hopes other religions are brought into the mix.

After all, she said, these are difficult times and everyone needs a helping hand whether they are physically or spiritually aching.

"There's a scripture that said don't go around telling people who are hungry and cold to be happy," she said. "Feed them, give them a coat. Then talk to them about being happy. Meet people where their needs really are."

Fore more information on GMC's Congregational Health Ministry, call Jean Holley at 678-312-2467 or by email at jholley@gwinnettmedicalcenter.org.