Patients’ Expectations of Chaplains: What You Need to Know

“What do patients expect of Chaplains?” This question came from a volunteer at a training event. At first, I thought it was a simple question to answer, and I proposed a few simple answers: kindness, respect, listening skills, no preaching, but an expertise in religious and spiritual matters. However, I felt that was too simple, so I did a little exploration. From the Family Satisfaction Surveys in the Deyta reports, I analyzed the positive comments to find out more. The negative comments gave no insight. Keep in mind, the family members received the Family Satisfaction Survey within a month of their loved one’s death.

Here is a list family caregivers used to describe their experience with hospice. You will notice I pulled together quite a number of descriptors since they were similar in meaning.

  1. By far, the following words were most frequent: loving, nurturing, kind, respectful, considerate, warm, understanding, great help, gentle, comforting, sensitive, thoughtful, humane, patient, companionship, soothing, sent by God. Without question, these attributes of the hospice team were valued more than expertise or clinical skill. These people held the expectation that they mattered to us.
  1. Coming in second were these words: great, marvelous, wonderful, awesome, best, super, terrific, outstanding, incredible, exceptional, excellent. All of us enjoy hearing these words describing, and think about it…these words have affirmation and energy! We met all of their expectations and in the midst of their grief, they found the words to express their positive emotions.
  1. A very distant third were words describing clinical skills: expertise, professional, knowledgeable, skilled, and informative. My sense is they assumed the physicians and nurses, social workers, chaplains, home health aides, volunteer specialists, and bereavement counselors knew their jobs. It wasn’t the skills that mattered, but how they went about using those skills.

So, how do these positive words aid your hospice chaplaincy? Will you do something differently as a result? If so, what? What did you gain from this?