"Spirituality Matters"

Reflections on a Chaplaincy Championed Spiritual Care Initiative in a New Zealand Cancer Ward


  • Sande Ramage MidCentral District Health Board, Palmerston North
  • Barry Keane MidCentral District Health Board, Palmerston North
  • Richard Egan University of Otago




Cancer, chaplaincy, chaplains, intervention, spiritual care, spirituality


This article describes the Spirituality Matters project, a multi-disciplinary quality improvement project conducted in an inpatient cancer treatment ward during the summer of 2014-2015 at Palmerston North Hospital, New Zealand. The project involved staff training, pre- and post-surveys of staff, trailing a spiritual screening tool, specially designed education material for patients and staff, and patient interviews. Key findings suggest that although 81% of staff indicated initially that they were confident about engaging with patient around spirituality, in reality many of them found the process very challenging. Difficulties with language, role definition, competing clinical priorities, and perceptions of chaplains as ‘religious’ were identified as significant barriers. Although the project aim, of improving spiritual care provision, was not sustained after its trial period, a number of important lessons were learnt. This included the challenges of driving change in a clinical setting; including methodology, resourcing, utilization of academic researchers and the need for resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The project did raise the profile of the chaplain and the issue of how best to meet spiritual need.

Author Biographies

  • Sande Ramage, MidCentral District Health Board, Palmerston North

    Sande Ramage is Spiritual Care Coordinator at MidCentral District Health Board at Palmerston North, New Zealand. She had experience in health promotion and change management before retraining as an Anglican priest and working as a chaplain in schools and the military. Her focus now is working in partnership with the health system as we unravel how to honour the spirituality of people not aligned with a particular group. She explores spirituality one word at a time on spiritedcrone.co.nz.

  • Barry Keane, MidCentral District Health Board, Palmerston North

    Barry Keane is the Director of Nursing for Cancer Services and Co-Nurse Director for the Central Cancer Network. He has had a varied career in both hospital and community based clinical roles including director of clinical services in specialist palliative care (hospice) services. His focus is on how to integrate evidence based spiritual assessment and care into the multidisciplinary model of care. He is currently the chair of the MidCentral DHB Spiritual Care Advisory Group (SCAG), a driver for spiritual and compassionate care development work in the DHB.

  • Richard Egan, University of Otago

    Richard Egan is a Senior Lecturer in the Cancer Society Social and Behavioural Research Unit, Department of Preventive & Social Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, New Zealand. He teaches health promotion and has a range of research interests, including spirituality in health, supportive cancer care and health promotion.


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How to Cite

Ramage, S., Keane, B., & Egan, R. (2018). "Spirituality Matters": Reflections on a Chaplaincy Championed Spiritual Care Initiative in a New Zealand Cancer Ward. Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 6(1), 62-81. https://doi.org/10.1558/hscc.32493