Spirituality in cancer care: A survey on current practice, preparedness and prior education of oncology professionals

Author: Ganessan Kichenadasse

Kichenadasse, Ganessan, 2015 Spirituality in cancer care: A survey on current practice, preparedness and prior education of oncology professionals, Flinders University, School of Nursing & Midwifery

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The main research objectives of this study were to explore the current practice, preparedness and prior education of Australian oncologists and oncology trainees on the provision of spiritual care for their patients with cancer. Data was collected through an anonymous online survey using a validated questionnaire tool. Among the 128 survey respondents, 107 were suitable for data analysis. There were 69 medical professionals with an estimated response rate of 10% for the medical oncologist population in Australia. Although the survey was directed towards medical professionals, 38 non-medical professionals also responded to the survey, due the mixed membership of one of the organisations through which invitation emails were delivered.

The results of the survey indicated that the majority of the respondents had encountered patients with spiritual care needs in their clinical practice. Such spiritual needs were often discovered through the patient themselves during clinic consultations. The respondents identified that a team approach would be preferable for the delivery of spiritual care with clergy or chaplains along with other professionals. A conflicting pattern emerged regarding the role of medical professionals in spiritual care. Although 70% of the survey respondents identified that medical professionals should be responsible for the provision of spiritual care, the responses to qualitative questions demonstrated that a similar number of respondents believed that it should not be the role of medical professionals.

In their current clinical practice, only 45% of medical professionals perceived that they were partly or completely able to meet the spiritual needs of their patients. None of the demographic factors in an exploratory analysis, correlated with the self-perceived ability of the respondents to meet spiritual needs. Several barriers were mentioned by the respondents including lack of time, lack of training and lack of understanding of spirituality and spiritual care in the context of health.

Regarding prior training on spirituality and spiritual care, only 25% of the medical professionals felt that they had received some form of education with a meagre 7% of them stating that their education was adequate. Those respondents, who acknowledged they had prior training on spiritual care, highlighted that they learnt this on the job or because of their self-interest.

In summary, the results from this survey highlight that oncology trainees and practicing oncologists recognise that they often encounter patients with spiritual care needs. Although nearly half of the medical professionals perceived that they were able to meet the spiritual care needs of their patients, there were several barriers identified such as lack of time, lack of training and poor understanding over the role played by medical professionals exist in the provision of spiritual care to their patients.

Keywords: spirituality, cancer care, oncologists

Subject: Radiotherapy and Clinical Oncology thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2015
School: School of Nursing & Midwifery
Supervisor: Linda Sweet