Advocating for Spiritual Care in Palliative Care
Strengthening the presence and quality of spiritual care in palliative care team practice is a key focus of the work of the Coalition. However, there is often great confusion about the meaning of "spiritual care."
According to Christina Puchalski, MD in her book Making Health Care Whole, spirituality is the...
"aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred."
According to this definition, spirituality is intrinsic to being human--whether formally religious or not, every person has a spirituality. Thus, when confronting a new diagnosis or facing the challenges of living with a serious illness, a person's spirituality inevitably comes to the fore. Building on this belief, palliative care teams are interdisciplinary including physicians, nurses, social workers, and chaplains as the spiritual care specialists on the team. Yet, even though a fully staffed interdisciplinary team is the recognized standard of care, many palliative care teams do not have an integrated chaplain member.
According to National Palliative Care Registry data, while palliative care program penetration across the US health care system continues to grow, the percent of palliative care programs with complete interdisciplinary teams is still well below 50%.
Of the 56% of palliative care programs lacking a complete interdisciplinary team, 70% of those report not having a chaplain team member.
The Coalition seeks to address this staffing gap with the following resources:
Associate Palliative Care Chaplain Job Description: for a board-certified chaplain with 1 year or more of experience in palliative care.
Senior Palliative Care Chaplain Job Description: for a board certified and Hospice and Palliative Care Certified chaplain with 5 or more years of experience in palliative care.
Palliative care team physicians, nurses, social workers and chaplains can advocate for adding dedicated chaplains to the palliative care team with this infographic and the list of evidence-based guidelines on our "Making the Case: Spiritual Care in Palliative Care" page.
In addition, the Coalition supports the “generalist-specialist” model of providing spiritual care for palliative care patients and their loved ones. Namely, all members of the interdisciplinary palliative care team are trained and prepared to identify and assess spiritual pain. The board-certified professional chaplain is uniquely qualified to provide specialized spiritual care assessment and intervention, preferably as a fully-integrated member of the interdisciplinary team. The Coalition has developed the following “Spiritual Dimension” assessment tool for use by all members of the palliative care interdisciplinary team.