Ferrell, who leads End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium workshops, said such small-scale organized training opportunities are drops in the bucket of a huge unmet training need.
In addition to training, the field of spiritual care needs a clear definition, said Dr. Christina Puchalski, director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health in Washington, D.C.
"There is quite a bit of controversy about asking only about religion," Puchalski said. "But previous studies have shown that it's not a patient's particular religious denomination that matters, but what gives meaning and purpose in peoples' lives -things such as family, arts, work, nature, yoga and other values."
Puchalski, who invented a basic spiritual assessment questionnaire that is in wide use, added that the study could have benefitted by asking patients if nurses and doctors acted compassionately toward them, which is another example of spiritual care.
In a country full of diverse cultures, spiritual care may be intimidating to medical workers, but training can help with that, Ferrell said.
"For example, if we have a patient who says, 'I'm very devout in my faith and I never make decisions without consulting my rabbi,' then we immediately take that into account - perhaps by giving the patient extra time between procedures," she noted.
"Patients are telling us spiritual care has to be done with greater intention," Ferrell said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/Zm7Fey Journal of Clinical Oncology, online December 17, 2012