Nurses Exploring the Spirituality of Their Patients With Cancer: Participant Observation on a Medical Oncology Ward

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Attention for spirituality should be an integral part of professionals' caregiving. Particularly, nurses caring for patients with cancer might have opportunities to give attention to this dimension.


The aim of this study was to gain insight in the way and extent to which nurses during daily caregiving observe and explore spiritual issues of hospitalized patients with cancer.


We performed an ethnographic study with participant observation. Data were collected in 2015 during 4 shifts at the medical oncology department of a university hospital. The researcher, a spiritual care provider (chaplain) wearing the same kind of uniform as the nurses, observed the nurses, participated in their actions, and interviewed them after the shift.


Although the patients did send many implicit and explicit messages concerning spiritual issues, the nurses did not explore them. If noticed, 3 barriers for exploring spiritual issues were mentioned by the nurses: lack of time, conflict with their mindset, and being reserved to talk about such issues.


During their daily caregiving to patients with a life-threatening illness, nurses have many opportunities to explore spiritual issues, but they do not often recognize them. If they do, they tend not to explore the spiritual issues.

Implications for Practice:

Communication training for nurses is necessary to develop skills for exploring the spiritual dimension in patients with cancer. In such training, attention to the misconception that such a conversation requires a lot of time and for recognizing signals from patients inviting an exploration of their concerns is necessary.

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