"Give them the door but don't push them through it": Family Attitudes Toward Physician-Led Spiritual Care in Pediatric Palliative Medicine

J Relig Health. 2020 Dec;59(6):2899-2917. doi: 10.1007/s10943-020-00991-z.


Little is known about pediatric caregivers' perceptions of religious or spiritual (R/S) care provided by physicians. We conducted a qualitative, semistructured interview study to understand perceptions of pediatric caregivers toward physician-led R/S care. Participants were 20 primary caregivers whose children were hospitalized and receiving palliative care services. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using constant comparative methods. Three recurrent themes emerged regarding physician-led R/S care: (1) Most caregivers view providing R/S care as a positive sign of physician empathy, while a minority (3/20) prefer to keep R/S and medical care separate, (2) many caregivers prefer R/S care from a physician with whom they have a close relationship and/or share a faith background, and (3) physicians should open the door, but allow families to lead conversations about R/S care. Caregivers have mixed perceptions on physicians engaging in R/S care; most prefer that families set the direction of R/S care for themselves and their loved ones. Physicians should be trained to evaluate families' spiritual backgrounds and needs in ways that respectfully open the door to these conversations.

Keywords: Pediatric caregivers; Pediatric palliative care; Spiritual care; Spiritual history; Spiritual screening.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Child
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Palliative Care / psychology
  • Palliative Medicine
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Spirituality*