Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

What Do Chaplains Do: The Views of Palliative Care Physicians, Nurses, and Social Workers

It is well accepted that attention to spiritual concerns is a core dimension of palliative care. It is similarly well accepted that chaplains are the spiritual care specialists who should address such concerns. However, what chaplains do when they provide care for patients and families is often poorly understood by their palliative care colleagues. Having a clear understanding of what chaplains do is important because it contributes to improved utilization of the spiritual care and other resources of the palliative care team and thereby to better care for patients and families. The aim of this study was to describe what palliative care physicians, nurses, and social workers understand about what chaplains do. Brief surveys were distributed to participants at 2 workshops for palliative care professionals in 2016. The survey was completed by 110 participants. The majority reported that they understood what chaplains do moderately well or very well. Thirty-three percent of the written comments about what chaplains do were very general; 25% were more specific. Only a small proportion of the participants were aware that chaplains provide care for the team, are involved in facilitating treatment decision-making, perform spiritual assessments, and bridge communication between the patient/family/team/community. Based on our survey, palliative care colleagues appear to have a broad understanding of what chaplains do but many may be unfamiliar with important contributions of chaplains to care for patients, families, and teams. These findings point to the need for ongoing education of palliative teams about what chaplains do in palliative care.