In this now closed initiative, The Duke Endowment supported parish nurse programs in rural churches to help improve access to health services. The Endowment is no longer accepting grant applications in this area.
Many residents of rural communities in North Carolina face challenges when it comes to accessing health care services or information. Distance from hospitals or doctors’ offices is one hurdle, but finding a source for health care that residents trust and feel comfortable with is another. When patients are hesitant to seek care, or are confused by the care or advice they receive, their health can suffer.
Because rural churches often serve as a trusted social network in rural communities, The Duke Endowment became interested in using parish nurses to help rural residents understand health issues and navigate care systems.
Originally thought of as a way to help recovering hospital patients re-enter their communities, the role of parish nurses has grown considerably. Today, parish nurses are recognized as a knowledgeable bridge between patients and health care providers. They provide health education and prevention services to the church and the broader community.
A parish nurse serves as a trusted friend and confidant for church members who might otherwise keep health concerns or questions to themselves. Many parish nurses are members of the congregations they serve, further building a sense of trust.
One of the most important and defining characteristics of a parish nurse’s role is to provide a link between physical and spiritual wellness, providing a holistic approach to overall well-being. Because of the church setting, patients often feel comfortable sharing non-physical concerns with parish nurses, thus helping to improve total health.
The Endowment first began supporting parish nurses in 1997 through grants to rural hospitals to begin programs in conjunction with churches in their service area. Many of these programs still operate today.
From 2000-2009, the Endowment funded a dual-degree master’s program in health and nursing ministries at Duke Divinity School and the School of Nursing at Duke University. While the program delivered a quality curriculum, low enrollment made it unsustainable.
More recently, the Endowment funded parish nurse programs housed at individual churches. In many of those settings, most patients served by parish nurses were elderly, and the nurse’s role evolved into that of case manager and patient advocate, helping patients manage multiple medications and appointments.
View a list of sites that participated in rural parish nurse programs.