Spiritual care: implications for nurses' professional responsibility

René van Leeuwen, Lucas J Tiesinga, Doeke Post, Henk Jochemsen
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2006, 15 (7): 875-84

AIM: This paper aimed to gain insight into the spiritual aspects of nursing care within the context of health care in the Netherlands and to provide recommendations for the development of care in this area and the promotion of the professional expertise of nurses.

BACKGROUND: International nursing literature suggests that caregivers are expected to pay attention to spiritual aspects of patient care. In Dutch nursing literature, the spiritual dimension is increasingly becoming a focus of attention. Despite this, there is a lack of empirical data from professional practice in the Netherlands.

METHOD: Data were collected by means of focus group interviews. The sample was made up of the specialist fields of cardiology, oncology and neurology and divided into groups of patients, nurses and hospital chaplains. The interviews took place between May and December 2004. Data were qualitatively analysed using the computer programme Kwalitan.

RESULTS: Different spiritual themes emerged from the interviews. There were different expectations of the nurse's role with regard to spiritual aspects. The main themes derived from this research can be recognized as aspects of nursing competencies that are reported in the literature. However, the attention to spiritual aspects in the nursing process is not clear cut. It seems to be highly dependent on personal expression and personal commitment.

CONCLUSIONS: The study raises questions about the nurse's professional role in spiritual care. The study shows that different factors (personal, cultural and educational) play a role in the fact that spiritual care is not structurally embedded in nursing care. Further research on the impact of that variable is recommended.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Nursing care implies care for the spiritual needs of patients. To provide this care, nurses need to be knowledgeable regarding the content of spiritual care and the personal, professional, cultural and political factors influencing it. They also need to be able to participate in policy and decision-making discussions of spiritual care in clinical nursing practice.

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