AIM: To develop an understanding of how nurses provide spiritual care to terminally ill patients in order to develop best practice.
BACKGROUND: Patients approaching the end of life (EoL) can experience suffering physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Nurses are responsible for assessing these needs and providing holistic care, yet are given little implementable, evidence-based guidance regarding spiritual care. Nurses internationally continue to express inadequacy in assessing and addressing the spiritual domain, resulting in spiritual care being neglected or relegated to the pastoral team.
DESIGN: Systematic literature review, following PRISMA guidelines.
METHODS: Nineteen electronic databases were systematically searched and papers screened. Quality was appraised using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme qualitative checklist, and deductive thematic analysis, with a priori themes, was conducted.
RESULTS: Eleven studies provided a tripartite understanding of spiritual caregiving within the a priori themes: Nursing Spirit (a spiritual holistic ethos); the Soul of Care (the nurse-patient relationship) and the Body of Care (nurse care delivery). Ten of the studies involved palliative care nurses.
CONCLUSION: Nurses who provide spiritual care operate from an integrated holistic worldview, which develops from personal spirituality, life experience and professional practice of working with the dying. This worldview, when combined with advanced communication skills, shapes a relational way of spiritual caregiving that extends warmth, love and acceptance, thus enabling a patient's spiritual needs to surface and be resolved.
RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Quality spiritual caregiving requires time for nurses to develop: the personal, spiritual and professional skills that enable spiritual needs to be identified and redressed; nurse-patient relationships that allow patients to disclose and co-process these needs. Supportive work environments underpin such care. Further research is required to define spiritual care across all settings, outside of hospice, and to develop guidance for those involved in EoL care delivery.