Newswise — The highly subjective nature of the term “spirituality” and different personal perspectives influence how frontline nurses address the spiritual needs of their patients, according to a study in the American Journal of Critical Care (AJCC).

The article in AJCC, “Critical Care Nurses’ Perceived Need for Guidance in Addressing Spirituality in Critically Ill Patients,” examines how nurses define spirituality and their comfort in providing spiritual care to patients.

Through individual interviews with 30 critical-care nurses, a research team from Cleveland Clinic developed a working definition of spirituality pertaining to healthcare: the part of a person that gives meaning and purpose to the person’s life. Belief in a higher power that may inspire hope, provide resolution and transcend physical and conscious constraints.

“Without a clear definition, each nurse must reconcile his or her own beliefs within a framework mutually suitable for both nurse and patient,” said lead author Christina Canfield, RN, MSN, ACNS-BC, CCRN-E, a clinical nurse specialist, eHospital, Cleveland Clinic. “Nurses who seek to give whole-person care to their patients sense that something beyond the technical aspects of their job is needed.”

Three patient-centered themes related to spiritual care emerged during the interviews: end-of-life issues, resolutions associated with guilt and hope, and increased need for attention.

Nurses responded to these issues by offering support in a variety of ways, including personal presence, praying, touching, holding a hand or listening to patients. They also offered to contact pastoral care for support of the patient or the patient’s family.

“Nurses are ready to offer direct spiritual support if they sense it is needed but hesitate to initiate such support out of concern that doing so could be offensive to the patient or interpreted as proselytizing,” Canfield said. “Resources, such as classes or reference guides, may be helpful to those wishing to improve their comfort with providing spiritual care to patients.”

The study findings can provide a framework for creation of resources to support critical care nurses as they deliver care at the bedside. Additionally, the results provide the foundation for further research related to strategies for addressing the spiritual needs of critically ill patients and their families.

To access the article and its full-text PDF, visit the AJCC website at

About the American Journal of Critical Care: The American Journal of Critical Care (AJCC), a bimonthly scientific journal published by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, provides leading-edge clinical research that focuses on evidence-based practice applications. Established in 1992, it includes clinical and research studies, case reports, editorials and commentaries. AJCC enjoys a circulation of more than 106,000 acute and critical care nurses and can be accessed at

About the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: Founded in 1969 and based in Aliso Viejo, California, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world. AACN represents the interests of more than 500,000 acute and critical care nurses and includes more than 225 chapters worldwide. The organization’s vision is to create a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients and their families in which acute and critical care nurses make their optimal contribution.;;

Journal Link: American Journal of Critical Care, May-2016