1. Sweat, Mary T.

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Mother Teresa worked tirelessly in India caring for Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Atheists. She held the view that faith is a gift of God and God does not force himself on us. She wanted Hindus to become better Hindus, Catholics to become better Catholics, and Muslims to become better Muslims (Egan & Egan, 1989, p. 101). Some have criticized her for this view since she did not try to convert others to believe as she did. However, I think she modeled giving spiritual care to those with different worldviews.

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Worldwide, nurses are increasingly in contact with different cultures and faith practices. In Europe many countries have turned to other nations to help with labor needs. Many countries welcome immigrants and refugees. Many people migrate to other countries to find work. As a result, people groups that were predominantly one faith now hold multiple faith traditions. With the populations of countries becoming more diverse, healthcare is becoming more diverse.


Often people come from countries where they are accustomed to the family giving care and making medical decisions. This can cause conflict in a small U.S. hospital room where there is little room for the family. Another issue is language. The children may know English, but the elders are the decision-makers. Communicating with the children may offend the elders.


Dr. Patricia Benner, in her keynote address at the 2012 Nurses Christian Fellowship International Conference in Santiago, Chile, referred to giving care to others different than ourselves as living our heritage as compassionate strangers. She used the biblical example of the Good Samaritan who gave good care although a total stranger to an injured man of a different culture and a different faith. Benner emphasized the importance in treating the other as being the other and not the same. Instead of trying to make the other the same, we need to look for shared common ground. She noted these commonalities: we all push from the past, live in the present, and anticipate the future. We share in that we all are vulnerable, all face death, all live in a finite temporal world, all suffer in some way, and all lose loved ones.


Dr. Benner highlighted that diversity is like a spotlight illuminating our blind spots. We wouldn't see our blind spots if everyone were the same. The diversity and stories of others enrich us.


So, this brings us back to the question: can we give good, meaningful spiritual care to those with a different worldview? The answer is not only can we, but yes, we must. How can we best accomplish this care? Both Mother Teresa and Dr. Benner provide examples. As nurses giving spiritual care, it is vital we:


1. Seek the common ground, never forgetting we are all humans with core spiritual needs.


2. Listen carefully from the heart. We will have difficulty picking up on patients' needs if we are not actively listening.


3. Seek meaningful dialog to help us discover faith and cultural practices important for our patients.


4. Don't make assumptions. Just because someone has an Arabic name we can't assume he or she is Muslim. I had a student named Trinity and thought she was a Christian. However, she was the first-born and her parents felt they now were a family of three.


5. Validate before drawing conclusions. How a situation looks on the surface is not always reality. I knew a woman accused of being an addict because she carried syringes; in actuality she was a diabetic carrying insulin syringes.


6. Approach every person as a child of God. We are brothers and sisters, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).



Mother Teresa once said, "Our work is to encourage Christians and non-Christians to do works of love. Every work of love, done with a full heart, always brings people closer to God" (Egan & Egan, 1989, p. 49). She also said, "We don't preach, we just do what we do with love, and patients are touched by God's grace" (Vardey, 1995, p. 88). Our goal in caring for all patients is to lovingly serve and help meet their physical and spiritual needs.


Egan E., Egan K.(1989). Prayer time with Mother Teresa. New York, NY: Bantam. [Context Link]


Vardey L.(l995). Mother Teresa: A simple path. New York, NY: Ballantine. [Context Link]