Chaplain care in pediatric oncology: Insight for interprofessional collaboration

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2019 Dec;66(12):e27971. doi: 10.1002/pbc.27971. Epub 2019 Aug 20.


Background: Although attending to spiritual and religious needs is part of high quality care of pediatric cancer patients, oncology clinicians may not understand the role of the chaplain, resulting in underutilization of resources and failure to fully integrate the chaplain into the clinical team. We provide a description of what the chaplain does in the care of pediatric oncology patients.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative content analysis of chaplain chart notes over a one-year period on the pediatric oncology service at a freestanding children's hospital. Using criteria designed to capture multiple potential factors in chaplain referral, we selected 30 patients for thematic analysis.

Results: In 2016, 166 pediatric patients were diagnosed with cancer and received ongoing care at our institution. From the 30 patients selected, 230 chaplain encounters were documented in the medical chart. Three major themes emerged. (1) The chaplains provided a rich description of spiritual and psychosocial aspects of the patient and family's experience; (2) chaplains provided diverse interventions, both religious and secular in nature; and (3) chaplains provided care within a longitudinal relationship. All three themes depend on the empathic listening by a chaplain.

Conclusions: The chaplains' observations about patient and family beliefs, experiences, and emotional/spiritual states have the potential to inform the interdisciplinary care of the patient. Chaplain documentation provides insight into how spiritual care interventions and close relationships may promote patient and family well-being. In future work, we will explore how to give voice to their insights in caring for pediatric oncology patients.

Keywords: chaplain; interprofessional; pediatric cancer; spirituality; supportive care.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chaplaincy Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clergy / psychology*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Documentation / standards*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Palliative Care / psychology*
  • Pastoral Care / methods*
  • Patient Care Team
  • Prognosis
  • Spirituality
  • Young Adult