Staff perceptions on the role and value of chaplains in first responder and military settings: A scoping review

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Katie Tunks Leach
Dr. Joanne Lewis
Professor Tracy Levett-Jones


pastoral care, chaplain, spiritual care, military, first responder, paramedic, allied health



Chaplains in first responder and military services support staff prior to, during and after critical incidents. Some studies have explored the role of chaplains in these settings predominantly in the military and from chaplains’ perspectives. However, few studies have explored the perspective of staff. This scoping review aims to map the literature on staff perceptions of the role and value of chaplains in first responder and military settings.



A scoping review using the Arksey & O’Malley (2003) and Joanna Briggs Institute Scoping Review Methodology was conducted. English language peer-reviewed and grey literature in CINAHL, PubMed, PsychINFO, ProQuest and Google Scholar from 2004-2019 was reviewed for inclusion. Records were included if they provided staff perspectives on the role and value of chaplains in first responder and military settings. The initial search identified 491 records after removal of duplicates. All titles and abstracts were then screened for relevance to the research question and 84 were selected for full-text review. Seven records were included in final review; five dissertations and two peer-reviewed articles. Five of these were from the military and two from the police. Data were extracted and thematically analysed to identify staff perceptions of the role, skills and attributes, and value of chaplains in first responder and military settings.



Staff understood the role of chaplain to include the provision of spiritual and pastoral care and guidance and, in the case of police, providing scene support. Staff from all of the services identified requisite skills and attributes for chaplains such as being available, approachable and engaged; counselling; maintaining confidentiality and trust; being organisationally aware; and possessing distinct personality traits and knowledge of specialty content areas. The value chaplains brought to their services emerged from chaplains being trusted as a result of being proactively available for staff, families and bystanders for formal and informal conversation; organisational belonging and awareness resulting in enhanced staff satisfaction and retention; and promoting staff physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing.



Although military and police staff identified spiritual, psychological and social benefits to chaplains maintaining an active and visible role in their services, the small number of papers identified make generalisation of these findings to other first responder services problematic. Further research is therefore required to understand the impact of the chaplain’s role as part of the care team in first responder services.

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