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February 28, 2021

Older nurses look to ‘spiritual caring’

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Dr Susan Ronaldson (centre): ‘Professional nursing bodies have been advocating for some time how best to address and deliver spiritual caring as a basic component of nurses' education.'

Older, more experienced nurses working in palliative care are more likely to include spiritual caring in their day-to-day professional activities compared to their younger counterparts in acute care, a University of Sydney study has found.

Published in the international Journal of Clinical Nursing, the Sydney Nursing School study looked at the different approaches to spiritual caring and spirituality between palliative-care and acute-care nurses.

The researchers interviewed 92 registered nurses (RNs) at seven major metropolitan hospitals, both public and private, in Sydney as part of the study.

The study found that acute-care nurses, who were more likely to be tertiary educated than their senior nursing counterparts, said that either a lack of time or a desire not to be overly intrusive in a patient’s private life prevented them from discussing spirituality or spiritual care with those in their care.

The study’s lead author, Dr Susan Ronaldson, says her team found significant differences between the two nursing groups.

‘The relationship of spiritual perspective to spiritual practice was significant for palliative-care, but not for acute-care registered nurses,’ says Dr Ronaldson. ‘We also found that the palliative care RNs were older, more experienced and had been in their specialty area much longer than acute care RNs.

‘Palliative care nurses’ spiritual caring practice was more advanced and their spiritual perspective stronger, perhaps because they are dealing more regularly with end-of-life issues,’ adds Dr Ronaldson.

‘We found that a nurse’s ease with their own sense of spirituality was also integral to providing spiritual care. From our results we also concluded that the palliative-care environment is conducive to issues relating to spirituality.’

There is little doubt that impending death is considered a powerful stimulus for reflection on the significance of life and destiny for patients, states Ronaldson.

‘Professional nursing bodies have been advocating for some time how best to address and deliver spiritual caring as a basic component of nurses’ education.’

Historically, a stumbling block to spiritual caring has been an inability to define spirituality and spiritual caring as opposed to religion and faith traditions. Dr Ronaldson suggests that to overcome the perceived barriers to spiritual caring in an acute-care setting nurses be supported in specific areas:

‘In a busy acute-care environment nurses should be offered support and mentoring from nurses experienced with spiritual caring and spiritual caring education specific to their setting.’

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