Nurses tend to the physical needs of people dealing with common and complex problems. Those needs often lead patients to turn to religious and spiritual support and consequently, nurses need to have an understanding of spiritual practices and language to fully meet the needs of their patients. At Illinois Wesleyan University, nursing students In Dr. Wendy Kooken’s class must first grapple with their values and beliefs about what happens to themselves when they die. They learn about worldview diversity to understand how spiritual beliefs and needs can affect patient care. Often, University Chaplain, Elyse Nelson-Winger guest lectures during these fundamental nursing classes, to further prepare students to care for patients’ body and soul. As an example, a student who was a self-proclaimed atheist never contemplated a philosophy of death or thought about the impact of religion on her patients. At the end of the course, the student reflected on how powerful it was to understand spirituality to meet others’ needs.
As central to patient care as religious and spiritual needs are, there is almost nothing known about nurses’ religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. Dr. Kooken, Chaplain Nelson-Winger, and 6 rising junior nursing students, just received a grant from Interfaith Youth Core, to study the religious and spiritual beliefs and practices of nursing students from 3 area schools. Additionally, they will have a workshop where student nurses who attend will increase their knowledge and skills when working with religiously and spiritually diverse patients.
As a more diverse student population arrives on campus each year, the nursing program empowers these students to learn about, provide care, and advocate for their patients regardless of their race or religion. Dr. Kooken and her colleague, Dr. Amanda Hopkins seek to provide all students with the same ability to learn and work, even if those students wear a hijab. Through experience and research, Drs. Kooken and Hopkins noticed that not all teaching environments or hospitals were allowing nurses with hijabs to practice, especially in the operating rooms, citing dress code policies. However, with a few simple practices, that include the availability of hospital laundered hijabs, Muslim nurses can fully learn, work, and care for patients. Last March, Illinois Wesleyan University’s nursing professors, Hopkins and Kooken published a paper in partnership with Chaplain Nelson-Winger titled “Inclusive Clinical Practice and Policy for Muslim Nursing Students” in the Journal of Transcultural Nursing. This research and awareness could change the teaching practices and inclusion of nurses around the country. They continue with their research on developing a survey to measure knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of nurses who work with Muslim healthcare providers.