First global research conference: Importance of spiritual care for good patient care

Categories: Research.

The theme of the conference was: Caring for the Human Spirit: Driving the Research Agenda in Spiritual Care in Health Care.

The conference was held between 31 March and 3 April at the New York Academy of Medicine and culminated a three-year long research and education effort funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Participants were from throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Canada, Kenya and Namibia.

Announced at the conference were the results of six research studies on the role of chaplaincy care interventions in the treatment of diverse palliative care patient groups including ICU, outpatients with advanced cancer, a diverse urban population, paediatric inpatients and inpatients at end of life.

The studies represent the first collection of empirical data on the contributions of chaplains in healthcare.

Research teams led by an MD or PhD researcher and a board certified chaplain were from Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Boston), Duke University Medical Center (Durham, NC), Children’s Mercy Hospital (Kansas City), Emory University (Atlanta), University of California/San Francisco and Advocate Health Care (Chicago).

In addition, featured speakers at the conference were:

  • Two of the Top 30 Visionaries in Hospice and Palliative Medicine announced earlier this year by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine:
    • Charles F. von Gunten, MD, PhD, vice president of Medical Affairs, Hospice and Palliative Care for the Ohio Health System.
    • Kathleen M. Foley, MD, an attending neurologist in the Pain & Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, professor of Neurology, Neuroscience and Clinical Pharmacology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and holder of the Society of MSKCC Chair in Pain Research.
  • Linda Emanuel, MD, PhD, senior vice president for research and education at HealthCare Chaplaincy Network Buehler, professor of Geriatric Medicine and director of the Buehler Center on Aging, Health and Society at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine.
  • Jimmie C. Holland, MD, recognised internationally as the founder of the sub-specialty of psycho-oncology, an attending psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where she holds the Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology. She is also professor of psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

“The presentations, dialogue, and energy at this conference have proven to be transformational,” said Rev. Eric J. Hall, president and CEO of HealthCare Chaplaincy Network. “For many years, chaplains have done their work with a well-trained basis of knowledge which has, with experience, become intuitive. But the health care world demands data. These six research studies are a huge step forward in describing what chaplains do so that these interventions can be tested, measured, refined and applied to better patient care.”

“The conference also marked the birth of a global research consortium on the impact of spiritual care in healthcare,” added Rev. Hall. “We have begun to establish collaborative relationships with organisations and individuals who are committed to quantifying and defining best practices. Something truly big has begun.”

A fuller report on the proceedings will be available soon at

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