Please Enter a Search Term

‘Inspiring and humbling’: Bringing spirituality in nursing to life

by: MUN

Doreen Westera is passionate about spirituality in nursing education and practice, and it shows. An associate professor at Memorial’s School of Nursing, her work is not only valued in this province, but is in demand nationally and around the world.

Over the past year Ms. Westera, together with Distance Education, Learning and Teaching Support (DELTS), created 13 videos for Memorial’s online Nursing 2990 course, Spiritual Dimensions of Nursing Practice. Word soon spread about the videos as distributing companies in Canada, the United States, Australia and Hong Kong are now carrying them. Several of her videos have also been translated into Mandarin for use in China.

“There are very few resources on spirituality and nursing, which is why these videos are in demand,” she explained. “I didn’t set out for it to happen that way, but people heard about them and wanted to purchase them for use in their own courses and curriculum.”

Early in 2012, Ms. Westera embarked on a journey to develop (and redevelop) videos to better engage nursing students on the subject of spirituality in nursing, and to facilitate nurses’ competence in the subject matter when dealing with their patients. Adverse events, such as illness, often stimulate spiritual searching yet, according to Ms. Westera, there is ample evidence in nursing literature that the spiritual element is often ignored in nursing curriculum and practice.

“My goal is for students to feel they have the skills, know what questions to ask and how to respond when asked the “why” question by patients, and to know what spiritual needs are,” she said. “Sometimes nurses are the best people to provide spiritual care as they are with patients 24/7. But nurses are missing this all over the place because they aren’t adequately prepared.”

In teaching spirituality in nursing it was important to Ms. Westera that her students hear the voices of real clients, and video was the medium to do that. By hearing real human stories she felt it would help students connect theory to practice.

“Real patient stories help students to realize that the definition of spirituality is different for each person. And they hear from real patients what they read in the research — it makes the theory come to life. I don’t tell people what to say, and yet both the professionals and patients interviewed reinforce the theories in the literature and research.

“And personally, being able to interview real patients and interact with them on such an intimate level is both inspiring and humbling in many ways. It’s a privilege as nurses to be involved with people as they journey through their experiences.”

The series of videos, which was used during the winter 2013 semester, includes three core videos that address general aspects of spiritual care and assessment, as well as 10 videos that focus on spirituality in relation to specific groups. Some videos focus on spirituality in the context of specific illnesses such as Parkinson’s, addictions, HIV/AIDS and mental health. Others focus on spiritual care in patient groups including children and adolescents, palliative care and life-threatening illness.

This isn’t the first time Ms. Westera has used videos in a course. Since 1999 she has worked with DELTS to create 31 videos.

“I don’t know anything about technology, but as I did more videos I got more ideas,” she said. “I would do lots of research, decide who to interview, arrange interviews and put together the narrations. DELTS would do the video shooting and editing, and use their creativity to help me convey what I wanted to convey in an effective way.”

In addition to spirituality in nursing, Ms. Westera has completed videos for community health nursing, counselling and communication skills, and one video on resilience in health crises, which she co-developed with Doreen Dawe, associate professor in the School of Nursing.

To view Ms. Westera’s nursing video resources, visit

Post Comments