Healthcare provider self-reported observations and behaviors regarding their role in the spiritual care of cancer patients

Elizabeth Palmer Kelly
Madison Hyer
Diamantis Tsilimigras
Timothy M. Pawlik
Supportive Care in Cancer



The provision of spiritual care by an interprofessional healthcare team is an important, yet frequently neglected, component of patient-centered cancer care. The current study aimed to assess the relationship between individual and occupational factors of healthcare providers and their self-reported observations and behaviors regarding spiritual care in the oncologic encounter.


A cross-sectional survey was administered to healthcare providers employed at a large Comprehensive Cancer Center. Pearson’s chi-square test and logistic regression were used to determine potential associations between provider factors and their observations and behaviors regarding spiritual care.


Among the participants emailed, 420 followed the survey link, with 340 (80.8%) participants completing the survey. Most participants were female (82.1%) and Caucasian (82.6%) with a median age was 35 years (IQR: 31–48). Providers included nurses (64.7%), physicians (17.9%), and “other” providers (17.4%). There was a difference in provider observations about discussing patient issues around religion and spirituality (R&S). Specifically, nurses more frequently inquired about R&S (60.3%), while physicians were less likely (41.4%) (p = 0.028). Also, nurses more frequently referred to chaplaincy/clergy (71.8%), while physicians and other providers more often consulted psychology/psychiatry (62.7%, p < 0.001). Perceived barriers to not discussing R&S topics included potentially offending patients (56.5%) and time limitations (47.7%).


Removing extrinsic barriers and understanding intrinsic influences can improve the provision of spiritual care by healthcare providers.