Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

I’m in love with my job. As I sit at my desk this beautiful summer morning in the Midwest, I am smiling, and my heart is filled with gratitude. I cannot wait to get to work and begin each day. My days are not always filled with joy and happiness. But they are filled with anticipation of the possibilities that lie ahead.

When I graduated from nursing school in 1986, I knew that delivering quality care was the most important part of my new career. But soon after I began practicing, I realized that there was much more to high quality patient care than knowing diseases and their management; I was in the role of an advocate.

I was called to help patients make informed decisions regarding their health, including helping them navigate a complex medical system, make ethical decisions, and understand their diagnosis and management of that disease process. Because I had such close interactions with patients, I was ideally positioned to be an advocate. I realized early on how advocacy built trusting relationships that enhanced the healing process.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) provides this definition of nursing advocacy: “The protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.” The ANA also addresses the importance of advocacy in its Code of Ethics, specifically in Provision 3: “The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.” Clearly, advocacy is a key tenet of the faith community nursing practice as well as the global practice of health ministries.

In 1997, my employer, St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky gave me the opportunity to develop a ministry outreach program. I have had the pleasure of being the coordinator of that program for over twenty-two years. I have grown professionally as a nurse and as equally important in my spiritual life as well. I have the privilege of working with nurses and healthcare professionals who bring their gifts and talents into their faith communities to promote health and wellness. A major part of my role is serving at community sites where I work alongside some of the most dedicated nurses and health leaders providing health services to the homeless and underserved.

The work I have the opportunity to do is the basis of advocacy: preserving human dignity, giving patients the equality they need and address their suffering. Through Health Ministries we use a whole-person approach to working with vulnerable populations. It may mean setting an appointment with a medical home, addressing insurance, or aspects related to providing transportation, basic supplies, healthcare education, spiritual care and support.

In many medical situations, patients and their families are anxious and confused. A calm experienced faith community nurse can help patients navigate an unfamiliar system and communicate with their physicians. In general, nurses are in a unique position that allows them to integrate all aspects of patient care, ensuring that concerns are addressed, standards are upheld and positive outcomes remain the goal.

In June of 1997, I had the opportunity to attend my first Health Ministries Association Annual Meeting and Conference held at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO. It was there that I also fell in love with the Health Ministries Association. At that conference, I was exposed to individuals who were so committed to the mission and vision of the faith/health movement that I knew that this was the place that I could figure out the path for a successful program. And it has absolutely been that place. I connected with so many Spirit-led leaders who were making a difference in faith-communities and communities nationwide. I knew at my first conference I had found my home to grow in my new practice, both professionally and personally.

This year will be my 20th year to attend the Health Ministries Association Conference. Through the years, I have met and become friends with so many amazing faith/health leaders. They are caring and sharing individuals, people so committed to this movement, they want to help you in any way possible. They have helped me to prayerfully work through numerous questions and situations that have arisen, no matter what time of day or night. I am so fortunate that I found HMA in 1997, for the friends I have made and the many people I have been touched by through this organization.

I hope that this year’s conference is on your calendar. It is going to be a stellar event with much applicable content to take back to your community, and so many amazing faith/health leaders to connect with. If you attended last year in Northern Kentucky, we welcome you back. If it has been awhile since you have attended, we hope to see you this year.

My excitement is growing as we approach 2018 conference time, our 29th year to gather together, to share and grow in this ministry. HMA is built on “the tireless exertions and passionate concern” for this ministry of some of the finest individuals I will ever know. Choose to join them this September, listen to why they are in love with their work and leave energized for your work and passion too.