1. Wolpert, Nancy S. MSN RN

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To some nurses at Jewish Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio, Blessing of the Hands (BOH) is the "best part of Nurses Week." This nondenominational act recognizes and unites healthcare workers who've chosen the shared journey of caring for patients, either directly or nondirectly. Suitable at numerous times throughout the year, some facilities offer BOH during nursing school pinning ceremonies, graduations, and reunions. The School of Nursing at the University of Notre Dame, Australia, actually holds this ritual before the clinical experiences of nursing students.

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The BOH ceremony consists of pouring warm water gently scented with essential oil over hands as a symbol to refresh and renew the spirit. It's important to communicate to the staff that the blessing is voluntary. Initially, some staff were hesitant to participate in the blessing until the event was witnessed.


For consideration

Shared below is the process used at my facility that may assist others in the implementation of this event.


* Members of the Nursing Retention, Diversity, and Holistic Committees, along with Spiritual Care, initially developed the ceremony for nursing; however, each year the BOH has expanded to other departments. The BOH committee met 2 months before the blessing to determine the schedule and make assignments, identify needed equipment, and design the printed program. Each year, staff feedback is reviewed and the system is tweaked for improvement. Marketing supports the BOH committee by announcing the event through e-mail and the hospital newsletter, creating flyers and posters, and assisting with the design of the printed program.


* To encourage staff attendance at the blessing, teams are assigned to rolling carts taken around the hospital. Some healthcare organizations may prefer to have their ceremony in the chapel or have a combination of both methods. Our process uses three volunteers-one as the leader, the second to pour water over the hands, and the third to pass out the programs and napkins for drying hands. The carts are covered with a tablecloth and contain the following supplies for the event: a decorative basin and a carafe for warm water; a bottle of essential oil of sandalwood; and napkins for drying hands. Our committee chose sandalwood oil for its light, woody fragrance and history of use in healing practices. A chime or bell is included on the carts to call staff to the start of the ceremony. The BOH is offered to each shift in each nursing unit. We avoid busy times in the units, such as shift change.


* The ceremony lasts approximately 5 minutes. A program is provided to each staff member to follow in the reading of the blessing. The program includes a description of the blessing, along with an invitation for associates, staff, and volunteers to reaffirm their healing touch in the care they bring to others each day and to renew their spirit. On the back of the program is a reflective poem for the staff to read later.


* Upon arrival in the nursing unit, everyone-including ancillary staff and physicians-is invited to gather around the cart with their hands over the basin while the leader reads a prayer. While warm water is slowly poured over the hands, the staff repeats the prayer of blessing.



Staff response

Expect staff response to be varied. In our experience, some staff may be touched with tears in their eyes, while others may stay at a distance to observe but not participate. (See Implementation recommendations.)


At the end of the blessing, a ribboned bookmark is given as a keepsake and programs are left for those not present. Going into our sixth year, the BOH has been expanded to include visits to the lab, environmental services, and other areas. A few years ago, our registration team lost a beloved member of their staff and requested the BOH ceremony for healing-what a powerful testament to the value of this service.


Implementation recommendations


1. Involve the Spiritual Care Department to assist with leading the readings, as needed.


2. Distribute the ceremony schedule to staff before the event.


3. Encourage nurse manager participation in their units to provide a sense of teamwork and unity.


4. Only use a few drops of the essential oils in the carafe of water.


5. Be flexible with the schedule, and provide the BOH ceremony to others, as requested.