Screening for spiritual distress in the oncology inpatient: a quality improvement pilot project between nurses and chaplains.

Document Type


Publication Date



Spritual Services

Journal Title

Journal of nursing management

MeSH Headings

Clinical Protocols, Humans, Neoplasms, New England, Nursing Assessment, Pastoral Care, Pilot Projects, Quality Improvement, Referral and Consultation, Risk Assessment, Spirituality, Stress, Psychological


AIMS: A quality improvement initiative of nursing/chaplain collaboration on the early identification and referral of oncology patients at risk of spiritual distress.

BACKGROUND: Research shows that spiritual distress may compromise patient health outcomes. These patients are often under-identified, and chaplaincy staffing is not sufficient to assess every patient. The current nursing admission form with a question of 'Any spiritual practices that may affect your care?' is ineffective in screening for spiritual distress.

METHOD(S): Ten nurses on the oncology unit were recruited and trained in a two-question screening tool to be utilized upon admission.

RESULTS: Six nurses made referrals; a total of 14 patients. Four (28%) were at risk of spiritual distress and were assessed by the chaplains.

CONCLUSIONS: Nurses are interested in the spiritual well-being of their patients and observe spiritual distress. They appreciate terminology/procedures by which they can assess more productively the spiritual needs of their patients and make appropriate chaplain referrals.

IMPLICATIONS FOR NURSING MANAGEMENT: The use of a brief spiritual screening protocol can improve nursing referrals to chaplains. The better utilization of chaplains that this enables can improve patient trust and satisfaction with their overall care and potentially reduce the harmful effects of spiritual distress.



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