Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Physicians’ Experience and Satisfaction with Chaplains: A National Survey

Religion and spirituality (R/S) are important resources for coping with serious illnesses, but research indicates that patients’ R/S needs often go unmet.1 Professional chaplains help patients make effective use of R/S resources in the context of illness,2 but one-third of US hospitals do not have chaplains.3 Even hospitals with chaplaincy programs rarely have sufficient staff to address the needs of all patients. Given these constraints, physicians and other clinical staff play critical roles in directing chaplains to patients who will benefit from their services.4 Unfortunately, little is known about physicians’ experience with and impressions of chaplains. Most physicians have little training to guide referrals to chaplains. Some evidence suggests that in the absence of such training, physicians’ referral patterns are shaped by their own R/S values and experiences.5,6 Physicians’ referrals may also be shaped by their understanding, or misunderstanding, of chaplains. One study found that physicians with no experience with chaplains feared that chaplains would ignore patients’ concerns and disrespect patients’ beliefs.7 Using data from a national survey, we examined physicians’ self-reported experience and satis- faction with chaplains. Based on earlier findings, we focused specifically on the relationship between physicians’ practice context3 and R/S views5,6 and their experience and satisfaction with chaplains.