The role of professional chaplains on pediatric palliative care teams: perspectives from physicians and chaplains
CONTEXT: Pediatric palliative care (PPC) specialists recognize spiritual care as integral to the services offered to seriously ill children and their families. Little is known about how PPC programs deliver spiritual care. OBJECTIVE: The goal of this pilot study was to begin to describe the role of professional chaplains in established PPC programs in children’s hospitals in the United States. METHODS: In 2009 we surveyed 28 PPC programs to ascertain how spiritual care was provided. Of the 19 programs with staff chaplains who met additional study criteria, we randomly selected eight to study in detail. Based on interviews with the medical director and staff chaplain in these eight programs, we qualitatively delineated chaplains’ roles in PPC. RESULTS: Twenty-four of the 28 surveyed programs (86%) reported having a staff chaplain on their clinical team. Among the 8 interviewed programs, there was considerable variation in how chaplains functioned as members of interdisciplinary teams. Despite these variations, physicians and chaplains agreed that chaplains address patients’ and families’ spiritual suffering, improve family-team communication, and provide rituals valued by patients, families, and staff. CONCLUSIONS: Our survey of these PPC programs found that spiritual care was typically provided by staff chaplains, and our interviews indicated that chaplains appeared to be well-integrated members of these teams. Further research is needed to evaluate how well the spiritual needs of patients, families, and staff are being met, and the organizational factors that support the delivery of spiritual care in children’s hospitals.