Little is known about the effect of chaplains on critical care nurses who are caring for critically ill patients and their families.


To understand nurses’ experiences when they make a referral to the Spiritual Care Department for a patient or the family of a patient who is dying or deceased. Specific aims were to explore spiritual care’s effect on nurses and how nurses understand the role of spiritual care in practice.


A qualitative descriptive study using in-person, semistructured interviews in a 21-bed medical-surgical intensive care unit in a teaching hospital. Purposeful sampling identified nurses who had at least 5 years of experience and had cared for at least 5 patients who died on their shift and at least 5 patients for whom they initiated a spiritual care referral. Interviews were digitally recorded and anonymized; conventional content analysis was used to analyze transcripts. Three investigators independently coded 5 transcripts and developed the preliminary coding list. As analysis proceeded, investigators organized codes into categories and themes.


A total of 25 nurses were interviewed. The central theme that emerged was presence, described through 3 main categories: the value of having chaplains present in the intensive care unit and their role, nurses’ experiences working with chaplains, and nurses’ experiences providing spiritual care.


Nurses considered spiritual care essential to holistic care and valued the support chaplains provide to patients, families, and staff in today’s spiritually diverse society.

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