HealthCare Chaplaincy NetworkTM’s 2015 Conference: A Great Success!

The 2nd annual Caring for the Human Spirit® Conference was a tremendous success. The nearly 400 participants attending the three-day event in person participated in keynote addresses, plenaries, workshops and considerable opportunities for peer-to-peer networking that truly advanced the integration of spiritual care in health care.

“HealthCare Chaplaincy NetworkTM’s 2nd Annual Caring for the Human Spirit® Conference Was a Milestone Event in Advancing the Integration of Spiritual Care in Health Care Internationally”

The featured speakers at the April 20-22 conference at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando 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, BCC, CSSBB Director, Health Services, Research and Quality, HealthCare Chaplaincy NetworkTM 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.

View the Conference photo album on the HCCN Facebook page here. Clicking on an individual photo presents the photo caption.

Keynote & Plenary Speakers


Liliana De Lima, MHA
Executive Director
International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care
Houston, TX
Liliana De Lima is a native of Colombia, South America. Her academic background is in clinical psychology with post graduate degrees in that subject as well as healthcare administration; and a fellowship in pain and policy studies. Previously, Liliana held positions including coordinator and director of Hospice La Viga in Colombia and program director of international programs in the Palliative Care Department, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

She is a founder of the Latin American Association for Palliative Care and was its president from 2004 to 2010. Liliana is a member of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence and served in the WHO Committee on the selection and use of essential medicines.

Betty Ferrell, PhD, RN, MA, FAAN, FPCN, CHPN
Director and Professor, Nursing Research and Education
City of Hope
Duarte, CA

Betty Ferrell, an oncology nurse for 35 years, has focused her clinical expertise and research on pain management, quality of life and palliative care. A fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, Ferrell has over 300 publications in peer-reviewed journals and texts and has authored or co-authored ten books. She is principal investigator of a Program Project funded by the National Cancer Institute on “Palliative Care for Quality of Life and Symptom Concerns in Lung Cancer” and principal investigator of the “End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium” project. Ferrell is a member of the board of scientific advisors of the National Cancer Institute and is chairperson of the National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care.

George Handzo, BCC, CSSBB
Director, Health Services, Research and Quality
HealthCare Chaplaincy NetworkTM
New York, NY

The Rev. George Handzo has been a part of HealthCare ChaplaincyTM for more than three decades, first as a chaplain at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and later as an esteemed member of the Chaplaincy’s management team. George was the co-principal investigator of the major, unprecedented 2011-2014 research project funded by the John Templeton Foundation to grow the field of chaplaincy research in palliative care. The Association of Professional Chaplains, where he served as both president and national chair of certification, gave him its highest honor – the Anton Boisen Professional Service Award, in 2011.

Christina Puchalski, MD, FACP
Founder and Director
George Washington Institute for Spirituality & Health (GWish)
Washington, DC

Christina M. Puchalski is a professor in the Department of Medicine and Health Sciences at the GWU School of Medicine Health Sciences, as well as a professor of Health Leadership and Management at GWU School of Public Health. She is an active board-certified clinician in Internal Medicine and palliative care and has received numerous awards. She is a fellow of the American College of Physicians, a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, and has written widely on topics ranging from biochemistry research to issues in ethics, culture, and spirituality and healthcare.

Karen E. Steinhauser, PhD
Health Scientist
The Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care
VA Medical Center
Durham, NC

Karen E. Steinhauser received her doctoral training at Duke where she specialized in medical sociology and aging. Her post-doctoral research focused on identifying what patients, families and healthcare providers value at the end of life, and later she was the co-principal investigator on the study to validate a clinical instrument designed to assess quality of life at the end of life, the QUAL-E; as well as the Principal Investigator on a companion study to develop and validate a family version of the instrument. Currently, she is a principal investigator on several studies including one examining the impact of discussions of life completion on symptoms and quality of life in patients with advanced life limiting illness. She also lends expertise to a variety of projects including those investigating physician-patient communication, emergency department utilization patterns, telehealth intervention and caregiver bedside training.

John Swinton, BD, PhD, RMN, RNMD
Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care
School of Divinity, Religious Studies and Philosophy
University of Aberdeen, King’s College
Aberdeen, Scotland

The Rev. John Swinton is professor in practical theology and pastoral care in the School of Divinity, Religious Studies and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, King’s College, Aberdeen Scotland. He has a background in nursing and healthcare chaplaincy and has researched and published extensively within the areas of practical theology, mental health, spirituality and human well-being and the theology of disability. He is the director of the University’s Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability, Co-director of the University’s Kairos Forum and the Director of the Centre for Ministry Studies.