Pray with Patients? An Opportunity to Practice Nursing from Within

by | Jan 9, 2017 | 13 comments

Prayer with a Patient?

About a month ago, I posted a question to nurses and nursing students on social media. It raised a lot of interesting and diverse discussion. The question was:

[Tweet “”How do you feel when a patient asks you to pray with them? Is it comfortable or unnerving?””]

While most nurses responded saying it was something Pray with Patients? An Opportunity to Practice Nursing from Withinthat they were comfortable with, some did share honestly that they were not. However, the wonderful thing I heard from almost all of the nurses and nursing students was that even if it was not their favorite thing to do- they would do it. For the patient.

Here are some of the responses I received that showcased the patient really does come first for nurses:

  • “They are asking so it is comfortable.”
  • “As someone who never liked to pray in public, it can be uncomfortable but I still like to do it. It’s completes the holistic wheel. I ask if they have specific requests and this makes it easier for me.”
  • “I’m essentially an atheist but that has never stopped me from honoring my patient’s belief system. I can share a quiet contemplative moment with them meditating on the true meaning of existence as we know it to be.”
  • “I’m not religious, but I would bow my head and be with them if the patient were the one leading the prayer.”
  • “We do a lot of things for our patients to promote comfort and healing. If the patient wants me to pray for them, I will.”

Not a Praying Person… And Still a Nurse

As we read above, even if we are not the type to pray in our own personal lives… we can still be silent and respectful with the patient. If the prayer is going to help the patient calm down or feel better- then we can stand quietly for a few minutes, acknowledging their needs.

This is an excellent opportunity to practice Nursing from Within™. As a refresher, the four steps of Nursing from Within™ are:

  1. Pray with Patients? An Opportunity to Practice Nursing from WithinPresence. Get quiet. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings- these influence how you will behave and/or react.
  2. Letting Go. Release any negativity. Let go of what does not serve you. This is your chance to shift perspective to looking for lessons, growing from challenges, or releasing old habits.
  3. Appreciate. When we let go of the negative stuff that is taking up space we are more free to focus on what’s working. Pay attention to strengths. Focus on the positive. What opportunity do you have to do something new, different, better, or good?
  4. Your Authentic Nurse. Let go of the bad. Focus on the good. Be your best self. In nursing we can get stuck in the trap of “not enough”. Using this four-step process can help you set and reach goals that are ideal for you and your dream career.

Comfortable with Peaceful Prayer

On the other hand, most of the nurses and nursing students who responded to the post on social media were in fact comfortable with praying with their patients… saying:

  • “Yes, always…and no discomfort. Prayer…meditation…no matter the belief…holistic care.”
  • “Very Comfortable!! Matter of fact- as a Nurse Leader- when doing my rounds and they ask… that makes my day. Regardless of their faith.”
  • “I love to be included. I always teach my students to be respectful no matter what religion. It’s a gift to be included.”
  • “I love it! It makes me feel so connected to my patients.”

So, I would love to hear more from you all reading. Have you been asked to pray with your patients? If so, are you comfortable with it? What has the experience been like- share a comment below and thanks for reading!

p1050390About the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week program, The Art of Nursing, Elizabeth supports nursing organizations in celebrating and recognizing their staff in a meaningful way. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.




  1. Debra Lee James

    I have NEVER had a problem praying for/with a patient. I’d always ask my patients if they have a belief system the follow & if they need any special accommodations. It puts patients at ease and lets them know that I, as a nurse, am respectful of them and truly their advocate.
    I once had a late night admission who was very hesitant about providing personal info. When I asked about her belief system she bristled. Come to find out when she told the admit tech in the E.D. that she was a practicing Pagan, the tech said, “that’s not a real religion; I’ll just put none.” I was floored! Needless to say, I made it clear that the tech was wrong on so many levels & assured her her beliefs would absolutely be respected on our unit.

    Bottom line: “An invitation to prayer is a sacred offering of deep vulnerability & should always be honored in a respectful manner.”
    ~ Debra Lee James, HNB-BC

    • Elizabeth

      Love this, Debra. Thank you so much for sharing this real world example with us. I agree with you. Our job as the nurse is to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible. If that means respecting their wishes related to prayer (Even if we do not ourselves pray), then I am all for it. Thanks for sharing the comment!

  2. Nurse Born Products

    Yes, I will pray with a patient or family member if they ask.

    • Elizabeth

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comment!

  3. Donna Maheady

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Over the years, I have always encouraged my students to share a moment of silence with patients if they were uncomfortable. The option has helped some be more comfortable.

    • Elizabeth

      Good point, Donna. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  4. Cassandra Herbert

    I have not been asked in a long time and maybe it’s because I work on a detox unit, but I remember the first time I was asked to pray with a patient. It was when I first became a nurse and I was working on a psychiatric unit. When the patient asked me to pray with them I was very uncomfortable because we had been taught not to have this type of interaction with patients on a psych unit. So I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do. I think I said to the patient we don’t do that here, but you are welcome to pray if that helps you.

    That was 20 plus years ago. I now feel very comfortable praying with a patient whether they are on a psych unit, detox unit or a personal client. The shift came when I learned more about being a holistic nurse and the importance of allowing spirituality in my interactions with patients and clients.
    Great question!

    • Elizabeth

      Thanks for sharing so honestly, Cassandra. I am hoping that through these discussions newer nurses see that it is OK to do this… if even not taught it in orientation.

  5. Ivanna | Provocative Joy

    Nursing with Mercy Ships involves prayer much more than inpatient care in the U.S. We pray at every handover as a group, typically the nurses. Sometimes patients will join us. Most nurses that join us love how holistic the care is.

    When I nursed previously in the States, I would offer prayer with patients every once in awhile. I don’t think anyone ever requested it of me first! I would probably be willing to support the religious requests of any patient even if it wasn’t my personal belief. Including spirituality or religion is what makes my care holistic!

    When I’m the patient, since I’m very religious/spiritual, I appreciate my doctor to acknowledge the role of prayer and faith in my plan of care. I can remember going to the doctor several months ago for a fairly traumatic personal event and I felt so alone and undignified because all the nurses I saw kept things at a very superficial, facts only, level. It’s a long story that I can’t explain, so I hope that makes sense. I hope that I am always open-minded enough to treat my patients as WHOLE people and inquire slightly deeper than symptoms and treatment plans.

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Ivanna, Great to see you here again!

      Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with this type of nursing work. And your experiences with prayer. I do agree that praying can be a holistic modality. It is certainly a spiritual practice and does not always need to be tied up into a specific religion.

      I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “I am always open-minded enough to treat the patient as a whole person”. I think that THIS very practice is what we need to be mindful of as nurses.

      Thanks for the comment! Always enjoy hearing your perspective and thoughts.

  6. Fran

    I pray with my coaching clients. I use affirmative channeled prayer which is not religious but spiritual
    The prayer reconnects the client with their own divine essence and helps them to see how they co create with Spirit.
    It is a unique experience for each client. As the prayer is channeled I receive peace and connection as well.

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Fran,

      Great to hear from you! I totally agree that prayer can be used in a context that does not need to necessarily be tied to religion. I think it is a calming practice that can help with setting intentions. Great share, thank you!

  7. Dawn R

    I am an EMT who was recovering in a nursing home from an amputation. While I had been here I had seen things other than what I do in the field. As a younger nursing home patient (not permanent-till I finished healing) I have had the opportunity to sit with two different roommates as they passed. The second while the family was there. They asked if I wanted to say goodbye to Mom. I told them I just came in to grab a couple of things, I don’t want to intrude. The son said, “NO, you were part of our family. You have helped keep the girls occupied while we spent time with her, you advised us each morning when we would call and before we went to bed.” Of course, they would spend time in the evening with her but that extra reassurance would get them to the morning. On the day Momma L passed (to hide names) the facility called the family (ironically after I spoke with them…) and told them it may not much longer. BUT, ME being ME…said to momma’s daughter-in-law when she called that morning that I wasn’t going to tell them what to do, but I felt that today they shouldn’t be brought down. I told her momma was raspy, had very slow and shallow breaths, and was sleeping peacefully. Momma was a sweet, misunderstood older woman who had lived an amazingly fun life. She loved her family more than she loved herself, and those two girls that would sit and color with me were her world. I share this because when her son moved and pushed me up next to her, DIL on the other side, I held her hand in one, DIL in the other. I bowed my head and said a silent prayer, thanked God for letting me be part of this, I prayed He would take her without problems, just go to sleep to wake up to the oasis in the Heavens with Him. After I prayed with her silently, DIL and I would watch her with each slow, shallow breath, waiting for the gasp of air. We did this a couple of times, looking at each other in between. As soon as she took her last breath, I knew, I could feel it. DIL and I looking at momma, no chest rise, no radial pulse, no corroded pulse. DIL and I looked at each other as she took her LAST breath of air. Being an EMT I am able to call time of death if I witness it. This is where it became tricky. In a professional situation, I could have called it. For some reason, God stopped me and said wait child, go get her nurse. As I went to get up, DIL said, hit the call light. I told them that it would be quicker if I went to get them. She had been pronounced, October 13, 2019, at 1:15 pm. That was also a way for me to duck out and let them have their personal time with her to say their final respects. The couple and their Pastor were in the hallway and I was a couple of doors down, sitting at the door talking to another resident. They asked if I minded coming down just for a couple of minutes before they left, so I did. While they were talking and the team was preparing her in the room, they were talking about how mom always went to church but had never been Christened, Baptized, or actually said “GOD, I ACCEPT YOU INTO MY LIFE AND HEART. I PROMISE TO FOLLOW THE WORD YOU HAVE WRITTEN, EVEN THOUGH I MAY FALTER, I WILL ASK FOR FORGIVENESS TO NEVER DO IT AGAIN. WE HERE ARE HUMAN, TEMPTATION IS THE ROUTE OF ALL EVIL AND I WILL PUSH IT AS FAR FROM ME AS OFTEN AS I CAN.” (this isn’t a prayer specifically looked up.) Finally she had let the Lord into her heart September 13, 2019, at 1:15 pm. (PLACE YOUR ATTENTION ON THE DAY AND TIME SHE WAS BAPTIZED TO THE DATE AND TIME SHE DEPARTED THIS WORLD-you may need to scroll up a tad.) The part that gives me chills is what the Lord said to me! “To wait, let the nurse do it. You did what I needed you to do.” If I had called it as a first responder it would have been October 13, 2019, at 1:11 pm. Some never want to do this, I didn’t, but I felt that was my duty to the family to honor their wishes as I was “family” also.

    I feel we are all put on this earth for a reason, compassion, care, build, destroy…the list can go on. If you go into the medical field you also take that oath to do your best for those you care for and this day, I hung up my stethoscope and was with family. After they prepared her, the Pastor asked if we all wanted to pray. We held hands, bowed our heads, and to this day while he was praying. I will remember the feeling as her soul left her body and passed through the 4 of us in the room peacefully home.


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