The Nurse's Role in Providing Spiritual Care - Is It OK to Pray?

There has been recent discussion in one of the allnurses threads about a nurse in the UK who was placed on suspension for offering to pray with a patient. In this instance, the nurse only offered to pray. She reportedly did not follow through with prayer when the patient declined her offer. In this instance, we only know what was written. We can only guess what the entire story might be. Nurses Spirituality Article


This brought up much discussion about whether or not offering prayer falls within the scope of the nurse while providing spiritual care.

Is it appropriate for nurses or doctors to pray with patients?

Should a nurse ever offer to pray with a patient without a specific request from the patient or the family? How can a nurse appropriately provide spiritual care? or should that aspect of care be left to the chaplain?

In the United States, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHP) requires that a spiritual assessment be completed on every patient. Because nurses work closely with the sick and dying, they often find themselves called upon to address a patient's spiritual needs. At the same time, they may be concerned about the appropriateness of such activities, as well as have questions on how to proceed. Although not all nurses feel comfortable providing spiritual care in all situations, they should be sensitive to the spiritual needs of their patients.

Many nurses feel both comfortable and confident in engaging in spiritual care activities such as praying with patients and listening to spiritual concerns.

These activities may be appropriately carried out by the nurse only if acceptable to the patient and the family. In order to provide respectful care, it is necessary to refrain from using the clinical setting or professional authority to promote any type of religion or particular spiritual practices.

It is not appropriate to pray aloud with/for every patient without patient request. Depending on the situation and the relationship the nurse has established with the patient, it may be appropriate to offer prayer. However, it is important to be attuned to the patient's already established spirituality. The clinical setting is not the place for proselytising, nor does the health care professional role properly include such activity.

When a patient is faced with a health crisis, he or she may seek spiritual nourishment, even if this has not been a typical part of the person's day-to-day life. Patients who are members of a particular faith tradition, and those who are not, may want prayer or other forms of spiritual activities to be part of the care they receive from health care professionals. Or they may not. Either way, health care professionals who want to provide spiritually nurturing and ethically sensitive care need to think carefully about the place of spiritual care in professional service.

Chaplains should not be the only providers of spiritual care for patients and their families. Much of the spiritual and religious support comes from other people, including parish nurses, clergy, family and friends of patients, volunteers representing different faith communities or congregations, and others. Although their personal spiritual beliefs may differ from those of the patient, medical staff can also address the spiritual needs of the patient. All medical personnel (believers and non-believers alike) must not let their personal beliefs get in the way of providing quality care for all of the patient's needs.....including spiritual needs.

Specializes in Family Practice Clinic.

I work in a very small town hospital. We don't have a chaplain, many of our patients families will pray with them, when I''m in the room, I will bow my head and pray. But I have never offered to pray for them. Many have asked if there was someone who could pray for them , then I will go get that person.

Specializes in Med surg, Critical Care, LTC.

Part of our admission assessment, per JACHO requirements, is a couple of questions along the lines of "do you have a religious affiliation?" Would you like us to contact your clergy member? and there is a spot for the clergy members name. Also, we ask if they would like to speak to the hospital chaplain.

Since these are required, as part of a holistic assessment of the patient, we are therefore documenting religious affiliation, and what, if anything, the patient may want in this area. WE ARE BRINGING UP RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION ON THE ADMISSION ASSESSMENT - why then is it wrong to pray with the patient if asked or if you find yourself in the room whilst the patient is in prayer - why should you be wronged to join in if you are so inclined?

I see absolutely nothing wrong with it, AND, I would document it so that others know we ARE addressing the patients spiritual side.


Specializes in Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds.

When my patients request it, I do pray with them. I have had numerous positive experiences in spiritual care with my clients (when requested). One night years ago when I was working in a level III ICU, I had an alert and oriented patient who was dying. She had made herself a no code. Numerous family members were at her bedside. As her vital signs began to diminish, the family requested chaplain services. I paged the chaplain numerous times, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally, I retrieved my old Bible from my locker and went into the patient's room. As she was dying, the family members and I held hands and we recited the Lord's prayer. I'll never forget that moment - it was electrifying. It was an amazing experience. Afterwards, the family thanked me for "filling in" for the chaplain.

Why not just say a quick silent pray, I have prayed several times for people and they didn't even know I was praying for them, But God did :rolleyes:

Specializes in Hospice, Palliative Care, OB/GYN, Peds,.

While I agree that it is a Chaplain's role to provide spiritual care, when I am out in the middle of who knows where and my patient is dying I cannot wait for the chaplain to come to pray. As I stated before, I know my patients and their faith so when I ask if I can pray I'm comfortable with whatever answer I receive. I do believe that as a nurse we are responsible for the total care of our patients and if I have to find a priest or rabbi or whatever I will do it to meet my patients' needs before they leave this earth. No, we should not push a religion but there is a difference between religion and faith as well as spiritual needs. Thank God I work in a job that I have the freedom to pray and discuss faith with patients if they want to. Sorry if that offends, there is soooo much in this world that offends me, but I deal with it and turn to those things that bring me comfort. :twocents:

Specializes in L & D; Postpartum.

Although I am a practicing Protestant, I would never offer to pray with a patient. I will and have prayed with them if they asked me to. Although on more than one occasion I was very uncomfortable with the kind of prayer being done. I can still be silent and reverent. Our patients, at least mine do, know that we have a non-denominational chaplain, on staff, and he can be summoned or assist in calling someone else.

I escaped from my floor once or twice myself to pray with our chaplain when my own family members were in health care crises.

Specializes in Orthopaedics, Nursing Education.

I believe if a patient asks you to pray with them and you are comfortable with doing so, then you should. I agree the spiritual needs should be addressed and if the patient is requesting it so be it. All that being said I would always offer chaplain services. Our hospital is very big on addressing ALL the needs of the patient. Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We have a wonderful spiritual care services. I know sometimes when patients are asking they feel an immediate need, and if it's during off hours, it might take 15-20 minutes for a chaplain to get here so I would think it would be okay to pray with them. Once again I think it should be the request of the patient. I would not offer to pray with them, but would certainly meet the request of the patient. It's maintaining a holistic approach. However if you are not comfortable with praying, get the chaplain.

I agree. yeah

Specializes in Telemetry. Med/ Surg..

Pray is individual however it seems that most pts are looking for a miracle so they invite you to pray, you should always inquire first and ask permission.

mlolsonny said:
In one of my nursing classes, it was presented that if a patient asks for prayer, we should all know a very "generic" prayer that wouldn't be offensive to any faith. Although I am a practicing evangelical, it isn't my place as a nurse to evangelize, but to minister to all the broken people with whom I work (Patients, family, AND staff).

It has been a very rare occasion that I have offered prayer, but when asked, I do my best not to offend.

I agree with you here..... I think it is OK to pray with your patient as long as the patient asks for it, and if it is done in such a way that it doesn't upset anyone else. I am a Christian, but it is not my place to evangelize in that sort of setting - my ministry in a work/healthcare setting is one of care and healing. I am a student nurse, and I work in a hospital that has a large chapel, and chaplains of many faiths including Roman Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, non-Christian clergy, etc. We at the hospital all recognize that patients have need of spiritual healing many times as well as of physical healing. My belief is that as nurses, we can, and it is entirely proper to, aid in this spiritual healing when asked to, and do so as part of a larger group of healers and caregivers.

Specializes in Critical Care.


Token atheist checking in.

tnbutterfly said:

This brought up much discussion about whether or not offering prayer falls within the scope of the nurse while providing spiritual care. Is it appropriate for nurses or doctors to pray with patients?



Should a nurse ever offer to pray with a patient without a specific request from the patient or the family?

No, unless the nurse is a parish nurse or some other setting where the patient by merit of the relationship has granted permission.


How can a nurse appropriately provide spiritual care? Or should that aspect of care be left to the chaplain?

By properly assessing patients' spiritual needs and enacting nursing and interdisciplinary team interventions as needed.


In the United States, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) requires that a spiritual assessment be completed on every patient.

The JCAHO guidelines are quite nice:


Who or what provides the patient with strength and hope?

Does the patient use prayer in their life?

How does the patient express their spirituality?

How would the patient describe their philosophy of life?

What type of spiritual/religious support does the patient desire?

What is the name of the patient's clergy, ministers, chaplains, pastor, rabbi?

What does suffering mean to the patient?

What does dying mean to the patient?

What are the patient's spiritual goals?

Is there a role of church/synagogue in the patient's life?

How does your faith help the patient cope with illness?

How does the patient keep going day after day?

What helps the patient get through this health care experience?

How has illness affected the patient and his/her family?

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

The joint commission does not specify what must be included in the spiritual assessment......Only that assessments be done. It requires the institutions it accredits address the spiritual needs of patients and families. It is up to each organization to decide on the content and scope of the spiritual assessments and "The qualifications of the individual(s) performing the assessment".

The questions listed in the previous post are "Examples of elements that could be but are not required in a spiritual assessment" which are to be "Directed to the patient or his/her family".