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Pastoral Care Research

The Department has an active program of pastoral care research, and in 1998 was awarded "Research Center of the Year" by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. That award acknowledged the Department's work on particular projects, its integration of research into the CPE curriculum, and its use of research in a variety of programs with the hospital and the School of Medicine. The Department is also actively involved with the ACPE Research Network.

A Research Seminar is part of the Department's Clinical Pastoral Education curriculum and aims to familiarize chaplaincy students with the area of study and equip them to utilize published research in the field and participate in future projects. CPE students also attend a monthly Interest Group on Spirituality, Religion, and Health, which draws persons from throughout the University of Pennsylvania and the hospitals of its Health System. This interest group, which the Department organizes and hosts, developed out of a multidisciplinary effort to establish a Center for Spirituality, Religion, and Health at Penn.

Specific research projects haev been carried out through a multi-site, interdisciplinary Research Committee, convened through the Department. This Committee has acted both as a working group for principal projects and as a consultative group to individual researchers developing studies outside of the Committee proper. In 1999, the Committee published its first study: "Do Patients Want Physicians To Inquire About Their Spiritual/Religious Beliefs If They Become Gravely Ill," in The Archives of Internal Medicine [159, no. 15 (August 9/23, 1999): 1803-6]. Findings were also presented at the annual conferences of the American College of Chest Physicians, the Society for Health and Human Values, the American Association of Bioethics, the Society for Bioethics Consultation, and the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. The study has to date been cited in 289 articles and in 109 books, including The Handbook of Religion & Health (2001/2011), Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment (2004), The Manual of Psychiatric Care for the Medically Ill (2005), Healthcare and Spirituality (2005), The Cambridge Textbook of Bioethics. (2008), The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion (2009), Spiritual Assessment in Healthcare Practice (2010), Making Health Care Whole: Integrating Spirituality into Patient Care (2010), and End of Life Care: A Practical Guide (2011). [Click here for a complete list of journal articles and books that reference the study.]

A follow-up study explored attitudes of nursing home residents concerning physician inquiry about spiritual/religious beliefs and paired that project with another regarding attitudes toward Living Wills and factors influencing their completion. Results of this study were presented to the annual conference of the American Association of Bioethics and Humanities. The Committee has continued to pursue original research projects, including a replication of the "Physician Inquiry" study at four sites around the nation, an investigation of the effectiveness of a pastoral care intervention as part of an outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program, and a study of the effects of an increased and intensive presence of a chaplain on an inpatient oncology unit. Most recently, the Department has undertaken a qualitative research project to explore the effect of illness on spirituality. Open-ended interviews were begun with this statement and question:

Some patients who undergo serious illness, whether they are religious or not, tell us that they have important experiences of a spiritual nature, such as spiritual discoveries, spiritual crises, or spiritual growth. We hope that a fuller understanding of these spiritual experiences will contribute to better patient care, and we'd like to learn from you about any experiences of this kind. All of your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings are important to us, so I invite you to share freely and completely.