Postgraduate students

Lisa Knitter BA PGDipArts, MA

Exploring Spirituality in a New Zealand Oncology Unit

Spirituality, as presented in this paper, is characterized as an individual's inherent need to find meaning and purpose in life, and as being the fabric that makes each person whole (encompassing beliefs, values, attitudes, identity, and for some, religion). Further, it is argued that the ideas about spirituality as presented within are important and relevant in providing holistic care, especially in the context of oncology care.

A gap has been identified between research related to spirituality and spiritual care in hospital settings. The New Zealand Cancer Control Strategy aims to provide quality cancer care services through a holistic health care model with a person-centered approach which "recognizes a person's total well-being including their physical, emotional, spiritual, social and practical needs." However, research conducted in New Zealand on the spiritual dimension, spiritual needs of patients with cancer, and spiritual care are absent from the cancer control section, which dictates areas of ongoing research. The purpose of this study is to explore and understand spirituality and spiritual care within a New Zealand hospital oncology setting by listening to the voices within those settings: patients, nurses, oncologists, and chaplains. The research questions addressed understandings and treatment of spiritual concerns in an oncology unit within a New Zealand public hospital. This study uses a qualitative approach which combined a literature review with in-depth interviews, totaling eight participants (patients n=3, doctors n=2, nurses n=2, chaplain n=1).

Although findings suggest that spirituality is understood in a variety of ways, common themes emerged, including: emphasis on relationships, holistic understandings (i.e. "who you are as a person"), and the tendency to distinguish spirituality from religion. The evidence presented suggests that education in spiritual literacy is lacking, resulting in confusion and misunderstanding of the terms, which are factors that influence how spiritual care is delivered. This study concluded that spirituality is broadly understood by participants, it is an important component in holistic health care, and it may be valuable for medical staff to have an understanding of spirituality (as it is discussed in contemporary health care discourse) so that spiritual needs of patients with a diagnosis of cancer can be fully met in the context of holistic care.

Download a copy of the thesis from OUR Archive.

Supervisors:Dr Erica Baffelli and Dr Richard Egan

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme