Open Access Research article

Cultural differences in spiritual care: findings of an Israeli oncologic questionnaire examining patient interest in spiritual care

Michael Schultz1*, Doron Lulav-Grinwald1 and Gil Bar-Sela2

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Oncology, Rambam-Health Care Campus, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, POB 9602, Haifa 31096, Israel

2 Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, POB 9602, Haifa 31096, Israel

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BMC Palliative Care 2014, 13:19  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-13-19

Published: 8 April 2014



As professional spiritual care (chaplaincy) is introduced to new cultures worldwide, it bears examining which elements of screening and care are universal and, for those elements showing cultural difference, to study them in each culture. No quantitative spiritual care patient study had previously been done in Israel. Our objectives were twofold: 1) to examine who wants spiritual care in Israel, including demographic and clinical variables, and to compare against other results worldwide to further develop universal screening protocols 2) to see what patients want from spiritual care specifically in the Israeli setting.


Self-administered patient questionnaire examining spirituality/religiosity, interest in spiritual care (subdivided by type of care), and key demographic, social, and clinical data. The study setting was an Israeli oncology center at which spiritual care had been recently introduced.


Data from 364 oncology patient questionnaires found 41% interest in spiritual care, as compared to 35%-54% in American studies. Having previously been visited by a spiritual caregiver predicted patient interest in further spiritual care (AOR 2.4, 95% CI 1.2-4.6), suggesting that the new service is being well-received. Multivariate stepwise logistic regression analysis identified additional predictors of openness to receiving spiritual care: self-describing as somewhat/very spiritual vs. not spiritual (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 3.9 and 6.3, 95% CI 1.8-8.6 and 2.6-15.1) or traditional/religious vs. secular (AOR 2.2 and 2.1, 95% CI 1.3-3.6 and 1.1-4.0); and receiving one visit a week or less from family and friends (AOR 5.6, 95% CI 2.1-15.1). These findings are in line with previous American studies, suggesting universality across cultures that could be utilized in screening. Differences in demographic data and medical condition were not significant predictors of patient interest, suggesting a cultural difference, where age and education were predictors in the American context. Levels of interest in explicitly religious or spiritual support such as prayer or addressing religious/spiritual questions were much lower than in other cultures.


Results illustrate the demand for and satisfaction with the new Israeli service. The cross-cultural comparison found both culture-dependent and possibly universal predictors of patient interest, and found lower interest in Israel for explicitly religious/spiritual types of support.

Spiritual care; Oncology; Chaplaincy; Spiritual screening; Patient education; International; Pastoral care