Spirituality and spiritual caring: nurses' perspectives and practice in palliative and acute care environments

J Clin Nurs. 2012 Aug;21(15-16):2126-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04180.x.


Aims and objectives: Identify and compare spiritual caring practice by palliative care and acute care registered nurses (RNs), determine any correlation between nurses' spiritual perspective and their spiritual caring, and to investigate perceived barriers to spiritual caring.

Background: Over the past decade there has been growing interest in spiritual caring in nursing. Professional nursing bodies have proposed spirituality and spiritual caring as an integral component of holistic nursing.

Design: Cross sectional study.

Methods: Palliative care RNs (n = 42) from one community palliative care service and three hospices, and acute care RNs (n = 50) from three major acute care hospitals all in metropolitan Sydney, Australia completed a research questionnaire. Two validated tools and a demographic survey were used to collect data. These tools measured spiritual perspectives including saliency of personal spirituality, spiritual views and engagement in spiritually-related activities; and spiritual practice including assessment, interventions and barriers to spiritual caring. Data were collected over a six-month period and interpreted with both descriptive and analytical statistics.

Results: Significant differences were seen between the two RN groups. Palliative care RNs' spiritual caring practice was more advanced and their spiritual perspective stronger; this relationship was positive. Both RN groups identified 'insufficient time' as the most common barrier to spiritual caring practice; 'patient privacy' was also common for acute care RNs.

Conclusions: Palliative care RNs' spiritual perspectives influenced their spiritual caring. These nurses were older and more career-advanced than the acute care RNs, which may explain the differences observed. Acute care RNs may benefit from additional support for their spiritual caring and to address perceived barriers.

Relevance to clinical practice: The development of nurses' spiritual perspective early in their preparation for practice, and the articulation and documentation of spiritual caring may enhance their spiritual caring practice. Further research on barriers to spiritual caring in acute care nursing environments is recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Holistic Nursing
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Staff / psychology*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Spirituality*
  • Young Adult