Should Nurses Be Better Prepared to Meet Patients’ Spiritual Needs?

[A] survey of over 4,000 nurses found that only a small minority (5%) felt that they could always meet the spiritual needs of patients, and the vast majority (80%) felt that spirituality should be covered in nurse education as a core aspect of nursing.

The most important spiritual need identified by nurses was having respect for privacy, dignity and religious and cultural beliefs (94%). Spending time with patients giving support and reassurance especially in a time of need (90%) and showing kindness, concern and cheerfulness when giving care (83%) were also key concerns.

The above excerpt is from an article in Health News Today about a survey conducted among nurses in the UK. And here’s one more excerpt, a direct quote from a nurse who took part in the survey:

“I am a Christian. However, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to impose my beliefs on others while they are in a vulnerable position. What I do believe is that I support them in the particular spiritual needs during that time – whether they be Christian, Muslim, Atheist, whatever. It is their right to be treated as a whole, unique person and it is our duty, as nurses, to treat all our patients holistically, for the person they are and the beliefs that they hold. Physical care has to be tailored to each individual and so should spiritual care.”

But why bother? After all, who has time? Well, spirituality may affect outcomes. A 2004 article published in the Journal of Family Practice reviewed recent research (and also offered a number of practice recommendations).

Most people have a strong awareness of themselves as spiritual beings. For many, their spirituality profoundly impacts, and is impacted by, illness. A review of studies in which spiritual factors are included suggests spirituality influences the process of healing significantly, either positively or negatively.

Once intimately connected in Western medicine, argues the article, medicine and spirituality long ago took different paths:

With the advent of the scientific revolution and the emergence of the scientific method in the late 1500s, the relationship between spirituality and science changed dramatically. Since this new experimental method could not be readily or confidently applied to God, or to one’s experiences with God, religion/spirituality was excluded from the realm of science and a chasm emerged between the 2 realms.

by Lel4nd, via Flickr

What do you think? Murky waters? Do nurses have a role in providing “holistic spiritual care” for patients, whatever their own or their patients’ religion or lack thereof, or is this beyond the scope of the job? What’s your experience? -Jacob Molyneux, senior editor/blog editor

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2016-11-21T13:17:44+00:00 May 13th, 2010|nursing perspective|4 Comments

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About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. 6 Human Needs - The Spiritual Needs October 19, 2011 at 8:47 pm

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  2. Penelope May 16, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Hi! Everyone has an absolute right to believe in God(or even not to believe). However the right to practice what we believe is not absolute. At hospitals living and believing as our beliefs convict us is our right and even saying and sharing it to others. On the other hand the patient has also the right to listen or not. I do believe that nurses in particular have a right to share what she or he believes on condition that the patient listens to her or him or ask his or her opinion. Reminds me that months ago their are cases of nurses who are just practicing what they think is right and was suspended by their hospitals for their beliefs. Example of this are Shirley Chaplin, 54, a devout Christian, said her employer, The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital, was violating her human rights. She has been removed from frontline duties in Exeter after refusing to take off a cross. The hospital rejected the nurse’s claim, arguing that all necklaces had been banned for health and safety reasons; a male nurse named Anand Rao who has been sacked after suggesting during a role play session on a training course that a ‘patient’ could go to church to relieve stress. Another is Community nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended for an alleged breach of the NMC code of conduct on equality and diversity by offering to say a prayer for a patient in Somerset. Whew! So do you think that in this generation nurses should be prepared to meet patients spiritual needs eh?

  3. jm May 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Laura. I’m only speculating here, so I hope I’ll be forgiven if I’m way off base, but it occurs to me that U.S. nursing schools may do at least a bit more to acknowledge this side of patient experience than the schools in the UK, in part because U.S. citizens may in general tend to place more emphasis on the spiritual or religious side of life than do people in the UK. -jacob

  4. Laura May 13, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    At our nursing college they do teach spiritually & cultural awareness, plus comparative religions is a require prerequisite course.

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