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The Science of Spirituality: Q&A with George Fitchett, DMin, PhD, Chaplaincy Researcher

Research shows that patients experiencing religious and spiritual struggle often face worse outcomes than those who do not experience such a conflict. For chaplains to better find the patients most in need and provide them with the best care, they need to be able to study and use evidence-based practice to improve their efforts. This requires that chaplains understand research and, when possible, conduct research themselves.

The John Templeton Foundation has awarded Rush and Brandeis University $4.5 million in grants for a project to help chaplains meet this need. The grants will fund 16 fellowships for board-certified chaplains to earn a two-year researchfocused graduate degree in epidemiology, biostatistics or public health. Additionally, 70 clinical pastoral education residency programs nationwide will receive funding to add research literacy into their respective chaplaincy training curriculums. George Fitchett (pictured above), DMin, PhD, professor and director of research in Rush’s Department of Religion, Health and Human Values, is serving as project co-leader.

How can research literacy help chaplains?

The questions chaplains must ask are, “How can I know I am providing the best care for a patient?” and “Am I providing for the right patients?” Becoming research-informed can help chaplains find the people who need them the most and learn whether they are providing the most effective care, while enabling chaplains to more objectively convey their impact.

How did you learn about this need?

We find patients who feel abandoned by God or are angry with God. We used to be taught that, for theological and psychological reasons, this probably isn’t a problem. But then research suggested that it most certainly is a problem and those patients in religious or spiritual struggle fare worse. It made me think twice about how I was trained. I became very interested in what research can tell me about which patients really need a chaplain’s help and how we can help.

How is philanthropic support making a difference with this effort?

Our research can help chaplains learn to use their time efficiently and effectively to care for patients and families and support fellow health care staff. With support, we can now equip chaplains to be able to do just that. By becoming an evidence-based profession, we can more confidently play an essential role on a health care team.

Read more about researched-based chaplaincy efforts and the John Templeton Foundation grants.

Read more Philanthropy News.

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