Teaching spiritual care – a grounded theory study among undergraduate nursing educators

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Aims and objectives.

To explore teachers’ understanding of spirituality and how they prepare undergraduate nursing students to recognise spiritual cues and learn to assess and provide spiritual care.


Nursing education addresses patient care in all domains of the person. Systematic teaching and supervision of students to prepare them to assist patients spiritually is an important part of holistic care. However, few role models for spiritual care are seen in clinical practice, and limited research addresses necessary student competencies or how teachers can best facilitate this process.


Grounded theory was used to identify teachers’ main concern and develop a substantive grounded theory.


Data collected during semi-structured interviews at three Norwegian University Colleges in five focus groups with 19 undergraduate nursing teachers were conducted from 2008 to 2009. Data were analysed through constant comparison of transcribed interviews until categories emerged and were saturated.


The participants’ main concern was ‘How to help students recognize cues and ways of providing spiritual care’. Participants resolved this by ‘Journeying with Students through their Maturation’. This basic social process has three iterative phases that develop throughout the nursing programme: ‘Raising Student awareness to Recognize the Essence of Spirituality’, ‘Assisting Students to Overcome Personal Barriers’, and ‘Mentoring Students’ Competency in Spiritual Care’.


Nursing education should prepare students to recognise and act on spiritual cues. Making spiritual assessment and interventions more visible and explicit throughout nursing programmes, in both classroom and clinical settings, will facilitate student maturation as they learn to integrate theoretical thinking into clinical practice.

Relevance to clinical practice.

Nursing students need role models who demonstrate spiritual care in the fast-paced hospital environment as well as in other clinical practice settings. To model spirituality as part of nursing care can assist students to overcome their vulnerability and to safeguard ethical issues and promote patient integrity.

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