Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Chaplains Working in Palliative Care: Who They Are and What They Do.

BACKGROUND: Palliative care (PC) programs utilize chaplains to address patients’ spiritual care needs; however, there is no comprehensive description of chaplaincy in PC programs nationally. OBJECTIVE: To describe chaplains working in PC across the United States, including their integration on the PC team and visit content. DESIGN: National online survey conducted February-April 2015. SUBJECTS: We invited participation from hospital-based chaplains belonging to four national professional chaplain associations who spent 15% or more of their working hours with PC teams. Measure(s): We developed a 41-item survey to investigate main outcomes of chaplain demographics, practice information, integration into the PC team, and visit content.RESULTS: 531 valid responses were received. We report on respondents who were full-time chaplains (n = 382). Almost half were women (46%), and the majority was Protestant (70%). The average number of PC patients seen per day was 5.2 (SD = 3.5, range 1-30). Half (52%) reported frequently participating in PC rounds. Primary chaplain activities were relationship building (76%), care at the time of death (69%), and helping patients with existential issues or spiritual distress (49%). Over half (55%) reported addressing goals of care 60% of the time or more. DISCUSSION: This survey provides the first description of chaplains working in PC across the United States. We describe chaplains’ critical role in attending to relationship building, care for the dying, and goals of care conversations. Our results highlight how the chaplains’ level of involvement in PC affects the content of their visits. Our study suggests that when chaplains are more involved in PC teams, they provide more comprehensive support to PC patients and their families.