Spiritual aspects of nursing : a descriptive study of nurses' perceptions
This descriptive, exploratory study examines nurses' perceptions of spiritual care. Having reviewed the literature it became apparent that the spiritual dimension can influence health, well-being and quality of life. Moreover, the nursing literature considers spiritual care part of the nurse's role, however, guidelines for its practice are absent. Research on spiritual care, particularly of British origin, is very much in its infance and nothing is known about how British nurses perceive their role in this. A conceptual framework for giving spiritual care using the Nursing Process is, therefore, offered by the researcher, although this still requires testing. The study, believed to be the first of its kind in Britain, ascertain how nurses, working in care of the elderly hospitals in Scotland, perceived spiritual need and spiritual care and professed to have given this care in practice. This was achieved by distributing a purpose designed postal questionnaire to the population of nurses (n=1170) in 1991. A response rate of 67.8% (n=793) was achieved, 58.5% (n=685) of questionnaires being usable. In addition, factors which appeared to influence the spiritual care nurses were identified. Initially clues to possible factors were obtained by conducting a certain statistical analysis using nurses' responses in the questionnaires. Further exploration of factors influencing spiritual care took place through interviewing a sample (n=12) of nurses. Findings revealed that nurses in the larger sample (n=685) seemed able to identify patients' spiritual needs and evaluate the care given, mainly through using non-verbal / indirect verbal cues displayed by patients. Nurses were, however, less willing / able to personally respond to these needs. Whereas for some nurses their reluctance to respond to patients' spiritual needs may have been due to their disclaim of responsibility for spiritual care, for others it seemed to be due to feelings of inadequacy. Charge nurses claiming religious affiliation and working on varied wards in certain geographical locations were most likely to have claimed to have identified patients' spiritual needs. However, it seemed, from the limited sample interviewed, that personal characteristics of the nurse were perhaps more important than the forementioned factors in determining the spiritual care given. Furthermore, factors relating to other professionals, the ward environment and the patient appeared to influence the way in which spiritual care was given to patients. The limitations of the study are acknowledged and the implications of the findings discussed. Given the descriptive nature of the study its prescriptive function is limited which highlights the need for further research in this important area of patient care.