By Austine Duru
Over the years, chaplains’ presence on interdisciplinary teams has been encouraged and welcomed. This is particularly crucial in the hospice setting, where end-of-life conversations draw on specific skills of chaplains. The research article Communication Dynamics in Hospice Teams: Understanding the Role of the Chaplain in Interdisciplinary Team Collaboration, published by Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles, et. al., (2008) in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, focuses on hospice interdisciplinary teams. It explores how hospice chaplains see and understand their roles and asks whether the experiences of chaplains are similar across hospice teams. The findings suggest that chaplains foster interdisciplinary communication while experiencing role conflict with other members of the team.
The Role of Chaplains within Oncology Interdisciplinary Teams by Shane Sinclair and Harvey M. Chochinov (2012), in the Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care, offers a systematic review of the role of chaplains/spiritual care professionals within oncology interdisciplinary teams. The review defined four focus areas: “basic concepts of spirituality within the healthcare domain; the relevance of spirituality within cancer care; the role of spiritual care within interdisciplinary cancer teams; and the current status of spiritual care professionals in interdisciplinary cancer teams.” Although the evidence points to greater recognition of spiritual care professionals as essential members of the interdisciplinary oncology team, this review concludes, “Full integration of spiritual care professionals within the standards practice of oncology interdisciplinary teams is lacking.” (A full version of this article is available from the publishers at a minimal cost or through institutional subscription.)
The Role of Professional Chaplains on Pediatric Palliative Care Teams: Perspectives from Physicians and Chaplains, by George Fitchett, et al., (2011), published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, investigates how pediatric palliative care programs deliver spiritual care. This pilot study surveyed over 28 such programs across the United States to investigate the role of professional chaplains in these teams. The results show variations in how the programs use chaplains on their interdisciplinary teams. The study also affirmed, “Chaplains address patients’ and families’ spiritual suffering, improve family-team communication, and provide rituals valued by patients, families, and staff.” This study has implications for chaplains who function in pediatric settings and those who support the delivery of pastoral care in children’s hospitals. (A full version of this article is available from the publishers at a minimal cost or through institutional subscription.)
“Taking your Place at the Table”: An Autoethnographic Study of Chaplains’ Participation on an Interdisciplinary Research Team, by Allison Kestenbaum et al., (2015), in the BMC Palliative Care, is sort of a research within a research. The autoethnographic study is a qualitative research method that “seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).” This project evolved while the authors were working on a study titled “Spiritual Assessment Intervention Model (AIM) in Outpatient Palliative Care Patients with Advanced Cancer.” This study aims to offer insights into the role of chaplains as researchers, how they function as members of the research team, how chaplain participation influences the research outcome, and how it affects the individual chaplain. The investigators identified three major themes: “1) chaplains’ unique contributions to the research team; 2) the interplay between the chaplains’ active research role and their work identities; and 3) tensions and challenges in being part of an interdisciplinary research team.” The authors conclude that as chaplaincy transitions into a research-informed profession, it is important for chaplains to be informed about participating in interdisciplinary research teams in a way that honors their unique expertise and contributions. This study affirms the benefits of chaplain involvement in research and of advocating for chaplains on interdisciplinary research teams to continue to advance the chaplaincy profession. It also encourages professional development through encouraging chaplains to engage in and persevere in research projects.
Video-mediated Communication in Hospice Interdisciplinary Team Meetings: Examining Technical Quality and Content, published in the AMIA Annual Symposium Proceedings Archives (2009) by George Demiris, et al., investigates videoconferencing technology in the work of an interdisciplinary hospice team. The chaplaincy profession has struggled to find meaningful ways to capture the power of presence, often expressed in the deep connections and active listening in the context of pastoral care for patients and families in the moment. This study specifically looks at how the quality of videoconferencing — utilizing videophones — affects the dynamics of communication between members of hospice interdisciplinary teams, the patient, and their family members. The study recorded and analyzed over 70 videophone interventions by the interdisciplinary team. It concluded that videoconferencing has the potential to support the psychosocial needs of the patient/family, but also supports shared decision-making in hospice care. This study provides a glimpse into the nature of what I would like to call “virtual presence,” and how chaplain presence can be mediated through a virtual medium, although imperfectly.
Austine Duru, BCC, is the regional director of mission, ethics, and pastoral care at SSM Health in Madison, WI.