Lisa Cole is used to navigating through the maze of the healthcare system.
And as a parish nurse, she uses her experience to help guide others through difficult times.
Cole, who has her masterâ€™s degree in nursing with a concentration on parish nursing, serves three western United Methodist churches â€” Messiah, Bess Chapel and Bethlehem â€” as part of their Parish Nurse Program.
The program started in March 2003, said the Rev. Dr. Linda Stack Morgan, Messiahâ€™s pastor. Itâ€™s part of a growing trend that places nurses in churches to give members someone they can trust and turn to in difficult times or just when they need information.
Cole completed from Gardner-Webb Universityâ€™s parish nursing masterâ€™s program in December 2002. She is one of the first six people to graduate from the new program.
Parish nursing provides church members with everything from free blood pressure screenings and informal counseling to financial advice and bereavement support, Stack Morgan said.
Cole has also held numerous programs on subjects like wellness for older adults, she said. She also helps gather information on subjects like Medicare and medication costs for those who need it.
But the main benefit of the program she sees is her presence and availability to church members who are in need.
â€œAs a nurse, I speak a language of nursing,â€ Cole said. â€œPeople come and talk to me and talk about frustrations and difficulties. Sometimes itâ€™s just listening is all somebody needs.â€
But the benefits can run even deeper.
Stack Morgan said the program can lead to the early diagnosis of medical problems.
â€œWhen youâ€™re worried about whether you have something, you might not go to the doctor, but you can talk to the parish nurse,â€ she said. â€œIt can head off a lot of things.â€
The relaxed, comfortable church environment can put people at ease and make them more likely to talk about concerns, the two agreed.
And they say the spiritual care Cole can give provides another level of comfort.
â€œChurch is a place where people can be themselves,â€ Cole said. â€œOften they tell me more than what the doctor has been told.â€
The popularity of parish nursing is growing, Stack Morgan said, and many large churches around the country are already taking part.
She hopes the program will expand in the western Lincoln County area. Being at least 20 to 30 minutes away from medical assistance, the need is great, she said. Since the start of the program, about 500 people have been helped.
â€œLisa has just added a dimension of a second ear and voice for spiritual encouragement, and that has been very valuable,â€ Stack Morgan said. â€œThe parish nurse is a faith-based medical presence in the community.â€
The West Lincoln Health Ministries Program is made possible by the Duke Endowment, Lincoln Medical Center and the Gastonia District UMC mission project. Participation is open to the entire community.by Alice Smith