Editor’s note: One of the new qualifications and competencies for certification is research literacy. As part of the ongoing Transforming Chaplaincy Project, several NACC members recently participated in a conference on pastoral care research at Rush University in Chicago. Two of them, Theresa Utschig and Kathy Klocek, agreed to share their reflections with Vision.
By Theresa Utschig
A new branch of chaplaincy has been developing quietly but steadily over the last few years: chaplaincy research. I recently had the good fortune to participate in the Chaplaincy Research Summer Institute at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Funded by The John Templeton Foundation, CRSI is part of “Transforming Chaplaincy: Promoting Research Literacy for Improved Patient Outcomes” project. CRSI not only allowed me to meet chaplains engaged in research, it but also helped me to understand why it is so important.
My own journey toward understanding and using spiritual care research began when my manager included me in our Research Committee. We were tasked with helping our department chaplains to become more research literate; educating ourselves about chaplaincy research and best practices; and exploring whether we could do our own research as a department. Finding, understanding, and presenting research articles was a challenge until we became familiar with our medical college and online resources, and found a statistician to help us navigate the charts found in the articles. A year later, we now have a quarterly journal meeting at which we present and discuss journal articles.
CRSI brought home to me again some of my own reflections on chaplaincy over the years. These are some of the tasks that we will need to focus on as we move forward in chaplaincy research:
- Informing the medical community about what we do. Our healthcare institutions may or may not understand what we as chaplains contribute to the total healthcare picture. Some of us may even need to prove that we contribute to an institution’s bottom line. In light of this, we need more ways of communicating what we offer to patients/families/staff as well as the impact of our work on the people and institutions we serve. I hope and believe that chaplains in research will help us to move in this direction.
- Finding allies/partners in the medical community. Many chaplains describe themselves and their role using language that is both liminal and communication-focused: “bridge,” “mediator,” “liaison,” “interpreter.” As we help our patients and families to navigate a possibly overwhelming emotional and spiritual terrain, we may also find ourselves addressing a communication gap between a vulnerable patient or support person and the medical staff. Arguably, we need allies as we provide care to patients. How often do we think to communicate this to others on the interdisciplinary team who could help us? The interdisciplinary team functions better when we are all on the same page, or (hopefully in the future) studying the same chaplaincy research.
- Articulating what we do. Many of our chaplaincy departments have electronic charting tools to help us record the emotional and spiritual resources of the patient/family, the intervention, the outcome, and the patient’s plan of care. Have we also taken the time to lay out a catalog of chaplain interventions and how we used them during a visit? Let us make the effort to write down the many things we are doing, including why we made particular choices during a conversation. Why is it so important to spell this out? I think the answer lies in our accumulated wisdom and the gifts of our trade: We have years of experience doing this transformational work with people. Making this available to those within and outside our field would help address the needs of our patients and families. It would also help us to continue to define the contribution of chaplaincy to the institutions we serve.
- Sharing best practices with other chaplains. Chaplaincy is changing as the needs of our patients and families evolve. We are collectively serving a population that is more predominantly secular and less religious (more “nones”). Are we taking the time to find out what other chaplains are grappling with in their environments? How are they describing their work? What tools are they using to help themselves? How are they addressing the move to outpatient service? How are they addressing the stresses of the staff? What about your own work? Have you been developing something that would really help another chaplain/institution? In our ever more complex environment, we need more information sharing. As one of my colleagues at the CRSI pointed out, what if we were to publish our findings in medical journals and not only in chaplaincy journals?
- Passing on our skills to new chaplains. Experienced chaplains are uniquely positioned to contribute to the education of new chaplains. Are we taking the opportunity to pass on our skills? What if we were to write more about what we are doing — the reasons we have created certain tools; our interventions; the influences on our thinking; how spiritual development happens in hospital environments; and how our works helps the spiritual transformation of patients and families as they navigate illness and wellness? And what if our departments would budget time for reflecting on our work and passing it on to others, or for doing research or quality improvement projects?
Transforming Chaplaincy’s CRSI helped me to see more clearly the issues around chaplaincy research, and reinforced for me that we as chaplains need to retain our own unique and often unmeasurable presence in the organizations we serve. At the same time exploring our work and developing chaplain researchers is an exciting move for the future of chaplaincy.
Theresa Utschig, BCC, is a chaplain at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI.
By Kathy Klocek
My interest in chaplaincy research began at the NACC conference in St. Louis in 2014, when plenary speaker Dr. Tracy Balboni described her career. Then at the conference in Chicago two years later, I heard George Fitchett discuss chaplaincy research. I could see all the possibilities for spiritual care to prove, in terms that medical staff and administrators could understand, the value of what chaplains share with patients, their families, and hospital staff. Spiritual care could be fully integrated into healthcare, bearing amazing results for patients and everyone who cares for them.
I began to collect articles on spiritual care, which proved what I already knew from my own practice — a large percentage of patients wanted and needed spiritual care but were not receiving it. At this point I was hooked on research. Working in a hospital that had its own research facility made me think that some people might be interested in teaming up with me to do research on spiritual care’s positive effects on patient satisfaction and outcomes.
I was happy to receive an NACC scholarship to the first ever Chaplaincy Summer Institute for Research. The conference offered all the basics that I needed to know. Opportunities to network were plentiful, allowing me to discuss ideas and plans with experienced researchers as well as neophytes. I made valuable contacts that will be a source of additional information as I begin to develop plans for chaplaincy research at Magee.
One of the surprising things that I took home was that research is not always cold and dry but can have a big heart. One of the presenters, Katherine Piderman from the Mayo Clinic, shared her work, “Hear My Voice: A Spiritual Legacy Process for Those at the End of Life.” Kate said, “Our mission is to provide an innovative, compassionate, and respectful opportunity for individuals with advanced diseases to prepare a spiritual legacy based on their beliefs, values, and life-learned wisdom in the context of a spiritual care relationship with a chaplain.”
On the last day of the conference, Jeanne Wirpsa from Northwestern University shared her current research project, “The Role of the Chaplain in Medical Decision Making.” I could see how she had applied all the things that the conference presenters taught us, showing how it all can come together. What she said gave me hope that even I could do chaplaincy research.
When I got back to Pittsburgh, I met with my research team and we began to form plans for a pilot quality improvement project — our first baby step in chaplaincy research.
I am grateful to NACC for giving me the opportunity to expand my professional horizons for the good of the patients and their families we serve.
Kathy Klocek is a chaplain at Magee-Womens Hospital of University of Pittsburgh Medical Centers, Pittsburgh, PA.