Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling

Spiritual Care Week 2021: Creating a Complete Clinical Picture

By Rhonda P. James-Jones

In July 2018, I was asked to attend the Chaplaincy Research Summer Institute (CRSI) offered through Transforming Chaplaincy. 

Rhonda James-Jones

Chaplains are invited to this institute for a myriad of reasons. Two drew me in—“providing leadership to chaplaincy quality improvement projects”[1] (QI) and “chaplaincy-related DMin projects”[2]. We discussed the importance of engaging in research, explored resources to help us get started and developed our research proposal ideas before heading back to our respective places to do the meaningful work of chaplaincy across the world.

My QI project was to improve patient experience scores on units that were not doing well. I worked with nursing leadership to integrate spiritual care with each patient on the unit. The pilot project educated nurses on what a chaplain does and how our assessments and clinical notes are essential in creating a complete clinical picture, assisting the interdisciplinary team in their respective roles. 

Specific language was crafted to assist nurses in explaining my role to patients. We tracked patients’ receptivity to chaplains serving on their care team, care team’s access to chaplain notes, chaplain’s follow-up and discharge visits. At the conclusion of the project, we were thrilled to hear nurse managers report that because of the chaplain’s intervention, an increase in patient experience scores resulted!

Transforming Chaplaincy notes on its website, “Research that informs chaplains and spiritual care providers about navigating institutional systems and preferred standards of professionalism within the healthcare continuum for patient-centered care becomes the model for chaplains and spiritual care providers as they offer care”. [3] 

In the summer of 2020 public crisis impacted healthcare. The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism disproportionately affected the Black community and caused “social and civil unrest” in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Aubrey and highlighted health disparities in the Black community. This prompted organizational leaders in healthcare, professional chaplaincy, religious organizations, theological institutions, and many other industries to name the official position on the matters of racism and injustice.

Many reaffirmed the commitment to caring for their minority employees and providing quality care to all they served. Increased calls to support staff who were serving on the pandemic frontlines included chaplains as to work alongside clinical staff as in many institutions chaplains were deemed essential personnel. 

In healthcare, Chaplains provided care to nurses and other hospital staff in these times of increased crisis and cyclical trauma, and it had a direct impact on their ability to care for themselves. Who was there to care for the chaplain? My doctoral work “Healthcare Chaplains: Caring for the Black Woman Clergy Self in Pandemic Times, from postulation to practice” will research how chaplains serving in healthcare were able to navigate institutional systems to care for themselves during pandemic times and develop a model that posits the care of the self as professional practice that leads to efficacy in patient-centered care, practitioner outcomes and systemic change in the profession for the least of these.

As a CBF-Endorsed chaplain I am blessed to be a part of a fellowship that understands and seeks to support chaplains not only in the endorsement process and professional practice but also in my educational pursuits. Renée Owen, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministries Director and Endorser, and Carrol Wilson, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Specialist, have openly welcomed the conversation and identified space for me to work with my fellow CBF-Endorsed chaplains to engage my research project. 

Through the combined ministries of the CBF Chaplaincy Affinity Groups and CBF Peer Learning Groups under the direction of Layne Smith, Renée and Carol helped me identify how CBF is equipped and willing to assist me in doing my chaplain research. I give thanks for this Fellowship and all we will accomplish together by the grace of God. 

Rhonda James-Jones is a clinically trained healthcare chaplain, manager of Spiritual Health and a certified practitioner of Biblical counseling.

[1] Transforming Chaplaincy. 2021. Summer Research Institute.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Transforming Chaplaincy. 2021. Spiritual Care Week: Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research.

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