In times of suffering and health crisis: What World Health Day means for two of TWU's Nursing educators

“Spiritual suffering is not limited to patients and their families, but extends to healthcare staff too, and thus workplace spirituality is increasingly growing as organizational priority, especially during the pandemic.” 

—Dr. Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham, Dean of Nursing

People may have many ways of making sense of illness and suffering. As a nursing educator and researcher, Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham knows that in healthcare, suffering can have not only physical and emotional dimensions, but also social and spiritual dimensions as well.

"Listening carefully to the stories of patients, chaplains, and healthcare providers pulled back the curtains, as it were, to the ways people make sense of illness and suffering,” said Dr. Reimer-Kirkham who is dean of Nursing at TWU. 

Dr. Reimer-Kirkham’s research focuses on diversity, religion, spirituality, equity and human rights—all in relation to health and healthcare services.

She has brought together international teams to study the expression of prayer in Vancouver, Canada and London, U.K. hospitals. “We learnt how prayer could be a source of comfort and connection, and a way of expressing one's religious identity, all of which can be very important in coping with illness and suffering,” she said.

She has observed how person-centred approaches to prayer and spiritual support can “make a tremendous difference” in times of health crisis.

“Spiritual suffering is not limited to patients and their families, but extends to healthcare staff too, and thus workplace spirituality is increasingly growing as organizational priority, especially during the pandemic.” she said.

She added, “Our (research) participants emphasized how important it was to follow a patient's lead, so as not to be impositional with prayer. A healthcare organization needs to strike a balance, in allowing the expression of multiple forms of prayer while also supporting those who are non-religious.”

The World Health Organization has deemed April 7 as World Health Day, which marks the anniversary of the organization’s founding and draws attention to a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world. The theme for 2021 is building a fairer, healthier world.

“While access remains uneven across the globe, the current pandemic has opened up new, innovative ways of learning that have the potential to advance educational opportunities for women at a pace not imagined since the last pandemic,” said Dr. Sonya Grypma, vice provost of leadership and graduate studies, and a member of the TWU’s executive leadership team.  

Early in her healthcare career, Dr. Grypma had been an outpost nurse in a remote, fly-in Indigenous community. She handled everything from diagnosis and treatment of general ailments and small injuries, to first response, triage and evacuation of emergencies, to pre-natal classes, home visits, and school health.

Today Dr. Grypma is TWU’s senior health advisor, leading the university’s COVID-19 public health response.   

See also: Dr. Grypma's interview in Canadian Nurse magazine,
"Sonya Grypma takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ of university’s COVID-19 response":

TWU in Canadian Nurse Magazine

As a nursing historian, she noted how, historically, “professions like nursing provided a socially-acceptable opportunity for bright and ambitious women to gain advanced university degrees and to become part of a global network that foreshadowed bodies such as the World Health Organization.”

Sonya Grypma is the author of three books on transnational nursing history: Healing Henan (UBC Press, 2008); China Interrupted (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012), and Nursing Shifts in Sichuan (UBC Press, forthcoming in 2021). Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham’s research spiritual support in the healthcare settings is captured in a newly published book, Prayer as Transgression?: The Social Relations of Prayer in Healthcare Settings (2020), co-authored with Sonya Sharma, Rachel Brown and Melania Calestani.

See also: this story in the Langley Advance Times.

About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses and locations: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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