By David Lewellen
The NACC had much to be thankful for and many gifts to honor at the annual conference March 6-9 in Arlington, VA.
“Honoring the Gift,” the theme of the conference and of the yearlong 50th anniversary celebration, was dramatically embodied at the opening prayer service with the presentation of an altar cloth inscribed with the names of more than 500 deceased members. “I see a mantle woven by our organization’s history,” said Mary T. O’Neill. “Assume it. Be wrapped in it. Feel its warmth, and yes, feel its weight.”
At Sunday night’s awards banquet, Austine Duru and Caterina Mako were honored with the first Emergent Leader Awards. Duru has led workshops, served as an interviewer and ITE, and has led the effort to find research articles for Vision. He thanked his employer, CHI Health, and family and mentors, and quoted his 5-year-old daughter’s definition of a chaplain for her younger sister: “It’s like a doctor who helps make people well from the inside.”
Mako has been a certification interviewer and regional liaison and organized a research project that became a seminal paper published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine. “Healthcare is in the biggest transformation of my lifetime, and so is the church,” she said. “We cannot be spectators in this transformation. We need to be energetic partners, and we need to be leaders.”
Sr. Barbara Brumleve, SSND, received the association’s Distinguished Service Award for her years of contributions, including service on the Certification Commission and the Board of Directors, including two years as chair. “As an advocate, as a visionary, and as a change agent, she has proclaimed the good news,” said Marilyn Williams in her introduction. “She has worked to include all of the NACC’s membership, especially the younger members. Many can answer Father Joe Driscoll’s question, ‘Who believed in me?’ by saying Barbara Brumleve.”
In her acceptance speech, Brumleve thanked her students, patients and colleagues, and said, “God loves us, pulls us, calls us, and says, ‘Please, please.’ … I want each of us to honor our own story.”
Fr. Joseph Driscoll, who led the NACC from 1992 to 2003 and gave Friday’s plenary speech, received the Outstanding Colleague Award. Alan Bowman, former chair of the Board of Directors, praised Driscoll’s “gift to see the goodness in the other” and for raising the reputation and the professionalism of the organization.
“I love meeting people, and I loved meeting you,” Driscoll said in acceptance. “If I’m an outstanding colleague, it’s because I’m with you as outstanding colleagues.”
At the conclusion of Wendy Cadge’s plenary speech, she announced a major new project to increase research literacy among healthcare chaplains.
Cadge, a sociology professor at Brandeis University, and George Fitchett, director of research in the department of religion at Rush University Medical Center, will lead a four-year, $4.5 million project to advance research literacy among the nation’s healthcare chaplains, “Training Research-Literate Chaplains as Ambassadors for Spirituality and Health.” The program, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, has three major components:
- A fellowship program will provide 16 future chaplaincy leaders training in research by completing a two-year, research-focused MS or MPH degree in epidemiology, statistics, or public health. Fellows will also complete a for-credit online course, “Understanding Research on Religion, Spirituality and Health” and receive mentoring.
- A grant program, “Integrating Research Literacy into Chaplaincy CPE Residency Programs,” will incentivize 70 CPE programs to make research literacy part of their curriculum.
- With matching funds from APC, ACPE, NACC, and NAJC, an online continuing education course, “Religion, Spirituality and Health: An Introduction to Research,” will be made available at no cost to all practicing chaplains who are members of these organizations.
Phase 1, project planning, will last through June 2016. Phase 2, implementation, will run through June 2019. Together these initiatives will create over 800 research-literate chaplains strengthening understandings of religion, spirituality, and health and transforming chaplaincy as a profession. For more information, visit www.researchliteratechaplaincy.org/.
>Workshop topics at the conference’s three breakout sessions ranged from the Indian flute to reading a research article.
In a session about how to use narration in a patient’s chart, CPE supervisor Gordon Hilsman asked, “Who are you writing that note to?” The answer, he said, is not for your manager or the next chaplain on duty — “it’s the nurse coming in after you leave, and you need something substantial to say.”
A study at Massachusetts General Hospital, where Hilsman works, found that 70% of nurses read a chaplain’s chart note, and that members of the interdisciplinary team rated chaplain notes a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 in usefulness. Hilsman said that doctors are more likely to read the notes if a patient is very sick.
“What you say to the staff about patients is important, and what you write is important,” said Anne Butler, a nurse practitioner at George Washington University. “And it’s not easy.”
In an example of how not to do things, Butler singled out a note that the patient “seems agitated,” and the chaplain referred the problem to the nursing staff. But “you have a phenomenal capacity to treat agitation” she told the audience of chaplains, “in ways that I could not come anywhere near.”
Butler urged avoiding medical-speak in chart notes. “Be true to you, your calling, your gifts,” she said. “There’s something in your calling that we in medicine hunger for.”
In a session on “Making the Case for Chaplaincy,” NACC Executive Director David Lichter described how chaplains can talk to CEOs and CFOs to persuade them of their value. Co-presenter Laura Richter, senior director of mission integration for Ascension Health, said, “Every time, wherever you can, tell the story — and it’s never enough.” It’s everyone’s job, not just the director’s, she said, and chaplains need to “have a pocketful of stories you can pull out on a regular basis.”
Conference attendees got a sneak preview of a major documentary on spiritual care that is scheduled to air on PBS in April. Filmmaker Martin Doblmeier, who has made more than 25 documentaries on religion and faith, said that “Chaplains” studies the work of spiritual care providers in many arenas, including corporations, the military, prisons, police departments, and sports, in addition to the healthcare setting most familiar to most NACC members.
Most members of the public, Doblmeier said, don’t have any mental image of a chaplain, unless he reminds them of Fr. Mulcahy from the TV series “M.A.S.H.”