Understanding the role of chaplains in supporting patients and healthcare staff
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

Understanding the role of chaplains in supporting patients and healthcare staff

Anthony Butler Practice education facilitator, Practice Development Centre, NHS Lanarkshire, Hamilton, Scotland
Kathleen Duffy Head of programme, NHS Education for Scotland, Glasgow, Scotland

Why you should read this article:
  • To enhance your awareness of the role of chaplaincy services in healthcare settings

  • To understand how chaplains can support patients and healthcare staff, including nurses

  • To recognise how the future role of the chaplain may involve providing generic support, rather than religious support

Aim To investigate attitudes towards chaplaincy in NHS Scotland, including the role of the chaplain in supporting healthcare staff.

Method This was a qualitative study that involved semi-structured interviews with four chaplains working throughout NHS Scotland. The research transcripts were analysed, and themes were identified and examined.

Findings Two main themes were identified from the interviews: understanding the role of the chaplain; and understanding the future role of the chaplain. The sub-themes identified were: healthcare staff members’ perceptions; chaplains’ perceptions; generic chaplaincy services; and becoming an allied healthcare profession.

Conclusion The findings of this study suggest that chaplains are increasingly providing support to healthcare staff, alongside their role in providing support to patients. The researchers also identified that chaplains in Scotland are adopting an increasingly educational role and that, in the future, they may adopt reflective practice programmes to assist them in managing increased requests for chaplaincy support from healthcare staff. It was also acknowledged that chaplaincy services may also be required to become an allied healthcare profession in the future, which may require chaplains to provide an increasingly generic and less religious service.

Nursing Standard. doi: 10.7748/ns.2019.e11282

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software




Conflict of interest

None declared

Butler A, Duffy K (2019) Understanding the role of chaplains in supporting patients and healthcare staff. Nursing Standard. doi: 10.7748/ns.2019.e11282


The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution that Rev Roddy Dick, lecturer in mental health and learning disabilities at the University of the West of Scotland, made to this work. Roddy, who was academic supervisor for the original research project, died suddenly shortly after the dissertation was completed

Published online: 10 October 2019

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