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Review of the 2017 Chaplaincy Summer Research Institute

by Rev. Rebekah Schmidt BCC 

APC Forum, September 2017, Vol. 19 No. 6

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the inaugural Chaplaincy Summer Research Institute (CRSI) from July 24-28th 2017 at Rush Medical Center.  I was blessed to be able to attend by the generous support of a scholarship grant from APC. 
I will admit that although I was glad to be going and expected to learn a lot, I didn’t expect it to be fun.  I mean, really, a week about research…important, yes, fun, no.  Except that it was!  The CRSI brought together an amazing group of chaplains interested in furthering our profession through establishing best practices through research.  The institute also had an international group of presenters from the field of chaplaincy.  The attendees ranged from staff chaplains in hospitals and hospices to vice presidents of healthcare systems.  What unified us all was a desire to establish the critical nature of chaplaincy (or spiritual care provision) to our health care partners.  That differentiation of whether we are called chaplains or spiritual care providers was part of the conversation.  Internationally this is also a topic of debate.  A rose by any other name may be a rose but if it wasn’t called a rose would it be valued as highly?  That is one of the questions before us as a profession.

We also were able to explore the current evidence out there about whether and how chaplain visits impact the bottom line such as patient satisfaction and HCAHP scores[1].  Although some say that we need to be careful to not focus on dollars and cents and lose the focus of our care on the patient and family, the reality is that without showing our profession as impacting the things that matter to the healthcare system, we are in grave danger of being seen as expendable.  In fact, one of the chaplains attending reported an elimination of 20/25 positions of chaplains in his system.  The threat is real, but so is the research showing that we do matter!  Not just to the people we care for but to the bottom line.

We also learned that research is a team sport.  We were warned not to just go back to our places of employment and just think we could launch an extensive research project.  Research is complicated with many steps and we need to make sure that the research we do can stand up to the rigorous standards that other researchers in the health care field expect.  Also, in partnering with others, we are establishing ourselves as part of the research team in our systems.  I am fortunate enough to work in an academic medical system where resources for research are extensive.  However, even if I did not, there were suggestions given as to how to get the resources needed by soliciting partnerships with others. 

An important point of the week was that the goal of Transforming Chaplaincy is not to make every chaplain a chaplain researcher but rather that all chaplains would be research literate.  What does that mean?  It means that as a chaplain, you would be responsible to read the research that has been completed, understand the basic research findings and be able to determine the strengths and limitations of the study and paper.  It would then be appropriate that chaplains at all levels would be able to integrate or suggest best practices in their settings to improve our profession and service as being evidenced based practice.

So would I recommend attendance at next year’s CRSI?  Absolutely!  It will probably take me a few months to process all the information provided and read all the references that I was given related to my topic of interest, but then I plan to start a research project at my own work place studying the impact of religious and spiritual values and beliefs and how we can best train physicians to validate and consider these issues as they engage in medical decision-making with patients and families.  The research is already there that these conversations are not happening[2] and that there are effective ways to teach physicians about communication skills related to medical decision-making and goals of care[3].  This seems to be an area ripe for research on how we, as chaplains, function as advocates and translators for how cultural and religious values and beliefs play a part in medical decision-making for patients and families.

Participation in the CRSI provided me both the motivation and the skills to move to the next level as a chaplain interested in research.  Thank you to Transforming Chaplaincy and the APC for making attendance at this institute possible. 
 


[1] Marin DB, Sharma V, Sosunov E, Egorova N, Goldstein R, Handzo GF. Relationship between chaplain visits and patient satisfaction.J Health Care Chaplain. 2015;21(1):14-24. doi: 10.1080/08854726.2014.981417. PubMed PMID: 25569779.
[2] Ernecoff NC, Curlin FA, Buddadhumaruk P, White DB. Health Care Professionals' Responses to Religious or Spiritual Statements by Surrogate Decision Makers During Goals-of-Care Discussions.JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Oct;175(10):1662-9. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.4124. PubMed PMID: 26322823.
[3] Stiggelbout AM, Pieterse AH, De Haes JC. Shared decision making: Concepts, evidence, and practice.Patient Educ Couns. 2015 Oct;98(10):1172-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2015.06.022. Epub 2015 Jul 15. PubMed PMID: 26215573
 
 
Rev. Rebekah Schmidt BCC is a Palliative Care Chaplain in Wisconsin

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