HealthCare Chaplaincy Network's second annual Caring for the Human Spirit™ Conference April 20th -22nd at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando was a milestone event in advancing the integration of spiritual care in health care internationally.
The featured speakers said that spiritual care is at a critical juncture, noting that its significance as part of overall wellness is increasingly being recognized and the field is now poised to make major inroads toward fully integrating spiritual care into health care in the U.S. and globally.
Emphasizing this, Christina M. Puchalski, MD, FACP, Founder and Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health (GWish), said, "Spirituality should be considered one of the vital signs in the care and treatment of patients.”
The 400 in-person attendees and other health care professionals accessing recorded sessions were from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Namibia, India, Australia, and Singapore. They represented multiple disciplines, including chaplains, physicians, nurse practitioners and researchers.
The consensus of the attendees was that the conference was a major step forward towards the goal of delivering effective whole-person care to more people in need. “I’ve been to many professional conferences, and this is the best one I’ve attended,” remarked one participant.” “This was such a great opportunity to hear from experts in the field and to engage one to one with professional colleagues,” said another attendee. One acknowledged, “I’ve learned things at the conference I wish I knew years ago.”
The program featured one keynote address, five plenary sessions, sixteen workshops, three intensives presentations, a dozen poster presentations, and occasions for small group conversations.
Dr. Puchalski presented the keynote address “Improving the Spiritual Domain of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus.” She described the global initiative for implementation of inter-professional spiritual care, discussed the educational and clinical initiatives in spirituality and health within the context of the global initiative recommendations, and reflected on ways that health care professionals could apply the call to the world to improve the quality of spiritual care in their setting.
Dr. Puchalski said that her recent experience with her father’s ultimately successful surgery has helped her understand the importance of patient- centered, whole person care.
The second plenary speaker was Betty Ferrell, RN, PhD, MA, FAAN, FPCN, CHPN, and Professor and Director of Nursing Research and Education at City of Hope in Duarte, California. Like the other speakers, Dr. Ferrell is a prominent advocate for the role of spiritual care within palliative care. In 2013 when announcing the new National Consensus Guidelines for Palliative Care as project co-chair, Dr. Ferrell stated emphatically, “If you’re not providing excellent spiritual care, you’re not providing palliative care.”
“Integration of Spirituality in Palliative Care Education and Research” was Dr. Ferrell’s plenary topic. She described national training programs to improve spiritual assessment and care by health care professionals, described research projects that have included spirituality as a component of interventions and outcomes, and identified opportunities for collaboration between spiritual care providers and clinical researchers to advance spiritual care and the evidence base for practice.
The third plenary speaker was Karen E. Steinhauser, MD, Health Scientist, the Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care, VA Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Steinhauser made the case that given the principles of patient-centeredness and holism that that are central to palliative care, spiritual care is an integral component of the palliative care provision mandated in policy guidance internationally. Despite this, she said, spiritual needs are often neglected in clinical practice, and the body of evidence to inform spiritual care, although growing, remains limited.
Dr. Steinhauser provided an overview of existing evidence in the field of spiritual care in palliative care, highlighted gaps in current evidence and new and growing areas of research, and identified future strategies and a research agenda for spiritual care in palliative care.
Liliana De Lima, MHA, Executive Director of the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, presented recent developments in palliative care worldwide in her plenary session “Making Spiritual Care Part of Health Care Worldwide,” including the important Palliative Care Resolution unanimously adopted by the World Health Health Assembly in 2014. She discussed the major challenges and opportunities for the development of spiritual care globally and identified tools and resources for advocacy to engage with the civil society in the advancement of spiritual care. In concluding, Ms. De Lima quoted Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
“Finding Room For God?: A Practical Theology For Spiritual Care In Healthcare” was the title of the plenary presentation by the Rev. Dr. John Swinton, BD, PhD, RMN, RNMD, Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. The Rev. Dr. Swinton’s theme was that in a health care context that requires generalities, reflecting on the particularities of any given religious tradition is always difficult and sensitive, and yet, religion remains an important aspect of patient and staff experience. How then, he asked, are we to hold the tension between developing spiritually neutral services and respecting and valuing belief systems that demand particularity? He explored this tension with a view to opening up space for critical but constructive conversation around the role of religion in the understanding and delivery of spiritual care.
In his concluding remarks the Rev. Dr. Swinton said, “Chaplaincy opens up the soul of health care.”
The Rev. George Handzo, MA, BCC, CSSBB Director, Health Services, Research and Quality, HealthCare Chaplaincy Network delivered the fifth plenary entitled “The Professional Chaplain: Taking the Lead in Integrating Spiritual Care Through Clinical Practice, Education and Research.” He described how the role of the chaplain in health care has become much more central to the health care enterprise and at the same time much more complicated and multifaceted.
The Rev. Handzo presented a role for the multi-faith chaplain in the demanding world of spiritually integrated healthcare, made the case for professional chaplaincy in their own setting, and described how to more effectively integrate and deploy chaplaincy resources in their healthcare. In conclusion, he recommended a sense of urgency to reduce the distress of patients and family caregivers as well as nurses and physicians and others who are under stress of providing care.
The conference’s workshops included these topics:
- Demonstrating the Value of Integrating Spiritual Care in Health Care Through Increased Patient Satisfaction
- TeleChaplaincy: The Online Practice of Professional Chaplaincy
- The Impact of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training on the Perceived Incidence of Workplace Incivility Among Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses
- Chaplain Visits and Patient Satisfaction
- The Distinctiveness of Pediatric Chaplaincy and Related Developmental and Training Implications for Spiritual Care
- Increasing Spiritual Care Awareness in Oncology Nursing Staff to Provide Quality Holistic Patient Care
- Spiritual Assessment and Intervention Model: Articulation, Evolution and Evidence
- Spiritually Integrated Therapy: A Curriculum for Mental Health Providers
- Educating Health Care Practitioners in Spiritual Care – A Tradecraft Workshop
- Can Trusting God Be Bad for Health? A Look at the Research
- Addressing Cumulative Grief as an Interdisciplinary Palliative Care Team
- Implementation of a Mental Health Certification Program for Chaplains
- The Role of the Chaplain in Medical Education: Fostering Inner Personal Growth as Part of Professional Formation of the Students
Intensives topics were:
- Online Education for Spiritual Care – Opportunities and Challenges
- Spiritual Care Research in the Palliative Care Setting – Issues and Possibilities
- Integrating Spirituality Into Clinical Practice: Enough with the Lip Service, Let’s Talk the Talk
In addition to the keynote and plenary speakers, conference faculty came from a wide range of health care institutions and organizations including:
- Mount Sinai Health System
- University of Chicago
- Duke University
- University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
- University of California San Francisco
- Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
- Birmingham Children’s Hospital, United Kingdom
- Stanford University School of Medicine
- Rush University
- Emory Healthcare
- Life’s Door-Tishkofet, Israel
- United States Veterans Administration
- Institute for Palliative Care at California State University San Marcos
- Tampa General Hospital
- Jewish Theological Seminary
- Arnold Palmer Medical Center
- Vanderbilt University
- Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
- Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
View photo album from the conference here.