Ask the Expert: Jews in the Hospital

What should nurses know?

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Question: I am a nurse and we are doing education lessons on the ways different cultures are impacted by a stay in the hospital. Also how we, as nurses can be more aware of the needs of Jewish patients and their families. Could you tell me of any spiritual concerns or needs I might encounter, and how best to help someone who is Jewish and in my care? Any information on your cultural needs would be very helpful.

--Cathie, Temple TX

Answer: It's great that you're so committed to ensuring that all of your patients are comfortable and receiving appropriate care, Cathie. Thanks for doing your homework!

I spoke to Jessica Weinberger, a Jewish nurse in Nashville, Tennessee about ways that nursing staff can accommodate the needs of a Jewish patient, and the first thing she said was, "Ask the family what their wishes and concerns are culturally, as every patient and patient's family is different."

This may seem obvious, but it's the most important part of providing appropriate care. Some Jewish families will be much more concerned with Jewish law than others. Some patients will have specific requests about modesty, or ways to celebrate Jewish holidays. It really depends on the family, so before you jump to any conclusions, it's best (and easiest) just to ask.

I also spoke with Susan Buchbinder, Director of Religious Life at the Council for Jewish Elderly in Chicago. Susan reiterated Jessica's point that asking is the most helpful thing you can do, and added that it's important not to make assumptions in these situations. Much better to ask a question than to hazard a guess and end up doing something offensive.

She also said, "Find resources which you can turn to to answer questions that you have. If your facility has a rabbi on staff in the Pastoral Care department, use that person as a resource. If not, go to local rabbis or reliable resources like MyJewishLearning for information." Of course, we appreciate the plug! Finally, she said, "Recognize that all individuals you work with have spiritual as well as physical and emotional needs. Allow that concept to guide you in your work."

Those are some general but important guidelines. But there are some things that are far more likely to come up than others, when it comes to Jewish patients. The foremost among these issues are Shabbat (the day of rest), kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), prayer, and issues of modesty.

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