“What I Learned about Nursing Student Ministry”

At Staff Conference 2014, a panel of InterVarsity staff discussed their experiences in ministry with nursing students. They come from a variety of ministry models. Some work with independent NCF chapters. Some have nursing students in their undergrad chapters. Some are starting something new in their nursing schools. All of them bring wise insights and joyful attitudes to their staff work in developing nursing students who will follow Jesus in nursing.

Meet our panel:

Staff Panel

Steve Tamayo, Area Director (Florida)
Working with nursing students is one of the most strategic long-term investments we can make toward the evangelization of the generation of college students on our campuses today.”

John Hanna, Area Director (Blue Ridge)
“If we reach nursing students with the Gospel, they can spend a lifetime as an effective ambassador for Christ to many patients.”

Sara Chang, CSM, University of Michigan
“It’s refreshing to see the natural and immediate bridge nursing students have between their academics and faith.”

Danny Chen, CSM, University of Central Florida
“Our InterVarsity students can learn from nursing students what it’s like to balance their time well and continue to take risks and make costly choices in the midst of a busy life.”

Miriam Robinson, NCF CSM, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
“If you find a few missional Christian nursing students, you can impact the kingdom on campus in significant ways.”

Staff Wisdom

What do you most enjoy about working with nursing students?

“Nursing students are often at a different maturity level.  I am impressed by how driven and goal-oriented they are.  However, these can be obstacles if priorities aren’t set on Jesus. The nursing career path they enter is noble, selfless, and altruistic. These attributes seem to influence their decision-making process and they are generally more receptive to Christian ministry compared to the average student on campus. They are already caring for people physically, so NCF is an avenue for them to think about providing care holistically to those they are called to serve.” (Danny Chen, CSM)

“Nursing students know what they will be doing after college and therefore tend to be very focused on preparing for that career. They are more open to thinking about how the Lord wants them to serve him through their profession and are very willing to learn and grow spiritually. They recognized the need to be spiritually prepared for the work they will do in nursing.” (John Hanna, AD)

“Nursing school is hard for many students, but God uses it to transform them. It’s a beautiful thing, a deep, rich, defining time. They come in as college freshmen and leave as nurses who view their careers as ministry.  I see their development both professionally and spiritually as they are transformed by God into nurses and world-changers.” (Miriam Robinson, NCF CSM)

“Nursing students are so on top of things!  I think the nature of the work of a nurse attracts students who are organized, caring, detail-oriented and practical.  It’s a huge and noticeable difference planning things with nursing students versus the other undergraduates I work with!  I also love the ways nursing students are already thinking about how their faith will intersect with their vocation.  As undergrads, they have already decided the course of their life after college. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see the natural and immediate bridge nursing students have between their academics and faith.” (Sara Chang, CSM)

“I love the way students immediately apply what their learning in NCF to their vocation as nurses, working with patients and other medical professionals. There’s a thinner wall between campus and the “real world.” It’s super-rewarding to see the immediate application.” (Steve Tamayo, AD)

What do you wish you would have known earlier about working with nursing students?

"Their schedules are so different from other undergraduate students. This limits their involvement in traditional InterVarsity chapter structures." (John Hanna, AD)

"They are extremely busy, especially in the last two years of undergrad!  Also, the nature of NCF predisposes many to be involved in other fellowships on campus as well.  This creates both opportunities and challenges in building a student group and witness." (Sara Chang, CSM)

"I wish I had known about the restrictions and rhythms of nursing students’ schedules. This pushes us toward a very different ministry model for NCF. It took a semester or two and some awkward conversations before I made the mental adjustment." (Steve Tamayo, AD)

"I was a nursing student, so not much surprised me. But I wish I knew how to work with the quick turnover of students. As NCF staff, I get even less time with my students because they are only in nursing school for 2 years (even less on campus). I am learning how to constantly think ahead to replace leaders, probably even more than undergrad staff." (Miriam Robinson, NCF CSM)

"Get acquainted with their schedules and capitalize on the time slots (as short as they may be) that most of them are available, such as lunchtime. The turnover is extremely fast for nursing students. They make it into nursing school during their 3rd year and they are gone by the end of their 4th year. Ministry strategy is a lot like a two-year commuter school, but with even less time to work with them because of their schedules." (Danny Chen, CSM)

"There are some faculty members who are extremely supportive of our work, and there are those who feel that we pose a threat to their “success” by distracting students from their fast-paced academics. You have to play your cards smart with the faculty and get on their good side, and help them catch the vision too." (Danny Chen, CSM)

How have nursing students influenced other InterVarsity students or chapters on your campus?

"They bring gifts of hard work and thoughtful reflection on how to serve the Lord in a career. They desire to see how faith impacts the details and specifics of life and they have a calling to serve and care for others." (John Hanna, AD)

"I’m trying to create more opportunities for our InterVarsity students and our nursing students to cross paths. I think they can be a tremendous blessing to each other. Our InterVarsity students can learn from the nursing students what it’s like to balance their time well and continue to take risks and make costly choices in the midst of a busy life." (Danny Chen, CSM)

"Nursing students have a deep understanding of responsibility and commitment. They have to in order to succeed in their classes and clinicals. Nursing student leaders are some of the best! In this way, they are great models of leadership. In many ways, I have seen my nursing students being caregivers to the undergrad chapter on our campus not only medically, but emotionally and spiritually as well." (Miriam Robinson, NCF CSM)

"NCF at Michigan was started by a nursing student in our undergrad Asian chapter who caught the vision at a fall conference for a specific ministry to reach to nursing students. At the time she was poised to be a small group leader and involved member in the Asian chapter but she decided to give all of her time to begin NCF while keeping up relationships with those in the Asian chapter. I believe this was a great example to the Asian chapter of what it looks like to intentionally reach people and areas on campus for the gospel, even if it means risk, new friends and smaller numbers. We are currently working to establish a stronger relationship between NCF and the three other undergrad chapters on campus." (Sara Chang, CSM)

"We struggle to link the chapters so I’d like to learn more. I think this is one of the major reasons we lost an NCF chapter." (Steve Tamayo, AD)

What opportunities do you see for NCF on campus to develop world-changers?

"Huge!  I recently gave birth to my first child and prior to that had never experienced hospital care, let alone nursing care. The nurses had such an impact on me. They interacted and cared for me with more time than the physicians. Nurses have a huge potential to impact each other in the workplace and the patients they see on a daily basis. Interactions with patients who are ill or dying can lead to questions about God and the afterlife.  Nurses are in a perfect place professionally to share Jesus with discernment." (Sara Chang, CSM)

“Nurses have special opportunities to connect with people during some of their most significant and challenging moments of life. Many people run through adulthood closed to spiritual things until they hit a moment of crisis -- and it’s not unusual for a nurse to be there at those times. Spiritual care in those moments can make a significant impact. Working with nursing students is one of the most strategic long-term investments we can make toward the evangelization of the generation of college students on our campuses today." (Steve Tamayo, AD)

"Nursing students will be in a profession where they interact with people all the time, often in circumstances where patients can be the most vulnerable. A Christian nurse who provides care for patients and lives out their faith in Christ is a huge witness. If we reach nursing students with the Gospel, they can spend a lifetime as an effective ambassador for Christ to many patients." (John Hanna, AD)

"The first time I met all the NCF students, I used the same talk I had just prepared for the InterVarsity group about Jesus and the paralyzed man. Jesus didn’t just heal the man’s sick body (temporary); he healed his sick spirit by forgiving his sins (eternal). Nursing students might enter nursing school to provide health care to thousands with physical ailments, but they can graduate as nurses ready to point thousands to Jesus for eternal healing of the soul." (Danny Chen, CSM)

"I see this as an equation. START: Nursing school is hard in many ways: academically, spiritually, and emotionally. I have seen many nursing students experience spiritual crises during this time. But, when they come out on the other side, they have a deep, deep understanding of God’s love and His gospel. ADD: The average nurse takes care of 600 patients a year. Many patients (and their family members) are experiencing spiritual crises when hospitalized. They are very willing to talk about spiritual things.  EQUALS = an incredible opportunity to change the healthcare world!

My story helps explain the equation: Nursing school was really hard for me, but I grew in a deep understanding of God, his love, and his faithfulness. He carried me through many times in school, and I knew it was only the Lord that brought me to graduation. He received all the glory for my degree and license. After experiencing him in such deep ways, I will always see my career as an offering back to him." (Miriam Robinson, NCF CSM)

Why should other CSMs and ADs seek to strategically reach nursing students on their campus?

"Nursing students not only have great opportunities as world changers after they graduate, but they have a lot to offer their campus and InterVarsity chapter now. They have natural opportunities to reach their classmates for Christ through their clinical groups. These close communities experience the same hard things in clinical and in class and they understand each other. Many nursing students are asking hard, spiritual questions about life and death. They want answers. As Christ-followers, we can help them find the answers and the hope they are looking for." (Miriam Robinson, NCF CSM)

"When I think of the “start something new” concepts, the nursing department is a corner of campus that is often unreached. But if you find a few missional, Christian nursing students, you can impact the kingdom on campus in significant ways." (Miriam Robinson, NCF CSM)

"They can often be an unreached people group on campus because of traditional ministry structures and schedules, and yet these students will work in a profession where they have daily contact and impact on many people. They experience people in some of the most vulnerable ways and that provides avenues for God to use them as his agents." (John Hanna, AD)

"They are a passionate, ready, and eager bunch.  It’s been a rewarding experience working with nursing students. Casting vision is easy with these students. Their career choices have already prepared them to live a life that is costly for them.  We come in to steer the purposes of their “costs” toward Jesus. Of all the students we work with, nursing students are among the few where “living a missional life after college” can be seen very practically in what they do." (Danny Chen, CSM)

"Nursing students encounter death and dying at a young age in ways many people do not experience until much later in life.  Reaching nursing students allows for deep ministry on issues that are so relevant to living life well and wrestling with tough questions early.  There are great ministry opportunities to these students. In addition, there is a great advantage to reaching students who are already focused in their vocational track.  There is huge potential to develop their minds, hearts and hands more into Christ to prepare them for a life of witness and love on behalf of Jesus." (Sara Chang, CSM)

"Three reasons: (1) Fruitfulness: A strong NCF ministry can be added to a chapter with just a few hours of staff attention. Go and plant new chapters at unreached campuses, sure. But you can plant an NCF chapter on your own campus. You won’t have to fill out a new affiliation or navigate an entirely new campus culture. This is some of the best planting practice you can get. (2) Sustainability: NCF ministry, once up and running, has the potential to sustain itself well. Faculty involvement is pretty straightforward, minimizing the impact of staff transitions. And nursing students (ahem) get jobs, give generously and can fund the work at their schools. (3) Intentionality: Nursing students often run in their own circles. If you want to connect with them, you need to do so intentionally. Their long hours and tight community presents challenges but also opportunities. Reach a handful of nursing students and you just might reach them all. No other academic department presents the same opportunity." (Steve Tamayo, AD)