Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Spotlight: Beba Tata

One of the best ways for Transforming Chaplaincy to help foster research literacy is to help chaplains become acquainted with one another and leaders in their fields. With that in mind, the Spotlight feature interviews one or more chaplains, educators, administrators / healthcare professionals, or researchers. These leaders are putting Transforming Chaplaincy to work in the world, and we hope their experience offers valuable insights for the entire Transforming Chaplaincy community. In this issue, we’re spotlighting Beba Tata, a Transforming Chaplaincy Fellow currently at the Mayo Clinic and MPH student at the University of Minnesota.


Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, what education or training do you have, and how did you end up in chaplaincy?

Beba Tata

I was born and raised in Bamenda, the northwest region of Cameroon. After my degree in geography from the University of Dschang, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in environmental management from the same university to work with people who are living in the margins of society, such as in landslide- and flood-prone zones. My interest to journey with people who are struggling continued and evolved as I became a health counselor for people with HIV/AIDS. My daily encounter with suffering moved me beyond daily counseling to attending to the emotional and spiritual aspects of the human experience. It became clear to me that I wanted spirituality to be the core component of my work—to help people find meaning and purpose even in the midst of struggle. My passion to provide spiritual care led me to the world of theology. I completed an MDiv at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, where I learned about CPE and chaplaincy, which immediately resonated with my passion and dreams. I completed my first CPE residency at St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital Washington, DC, and a second residency alongside a master’s degree in patient counseling at Virginia Commonwealth University. I am currently a chaplain at Mayo Clinic and a Transforming Chaplaincy research fellow, completing my last semester as an MPH student at the University of Minnesota


Why did you decide to pursue research literacy, and what do you think is the primary benefit that research literacy confers on chaplaincy?

My desire to pursue research literacy was a way for me to find answers to  questions that I had been having in my work experience. During my days as a CPE resident there was a lot of emphasis on chaplains becoming part of interdisciplinary teams. This made me begin to pause and ask myself “what would I bring to the table, how would I communicate the effectiveness of the work that we do and, most importantly, how will I contribute to the general plan of care of patients in a way that will complete the usually forgotten dimension of holistic care—spirituality?” VCU provided me with my first experience of chaplaincy research. I quickly learned that our profession needed evidence-based practices that will clearly communicate the effectiveness of the work that we do to other members of the care team. That study created a lot of awareness for me, helping me know that research could provide guidance as to where we are as chaplains and serve as a pointer to where we want to go and be. My current research involvement at Mayo Clinic clearly shows the benefits of research literacy on chaplaincy as a guiding light for the profession to recognize and then consider ways to develop interventions that will improve health outcomes. The study uses unique patient stories to create spiritual legacy documents for patients with cancer and other neuro-degenerative diseases. This research provides data that supports best practices to provide effective care but also an opportunity to explore what interventions work for certain populations of patients and in what settings. Research literacy offers chaplains the chance to partner with colleagues from other disciplines who are already experts in evidence-based work. Transforming Chaplaincy has given me a great gift to pursue research literacy, building my capacity and skills while also giving me the language to be a voice at the table of evidence-based research.


What are, in your opinion, the primary challenges to integrating research literacy into chaplaincy practice?

One of the biggest challenges I see is applying the findings of our research into our daily clinical practice. Being a Transforming Chaplaincy fellow has exposed me to hundreds of publications on religion, spirituality, and health, and it does not help us if these remain on the shelf. A great step forward would be showing chaplains how to use, test, and replicate some of the interventions in different settings. Different healthcare institutions have different views of the role and value of a chaplain, making it difficult to consistently be in a position to explain why chaplains do research and embrace rigorously-tested best practices for our profession. It is important to partner with people who have been involved not only in chaplaincy research but research in other disciplines, but it is also a challenge to find the right language/vocabulary to communicate with them. Finally, measurement remains a challenge. Some of the components of religion and spirituality are intrinsic to personal belief (or not) and, thus, hard to measure. Although many scales have been developed, this is is still a work in progress.


How do you integrate research literacy into your own practice?

It is a privilege for me to listen to the unique stories of patients, families and staff every day. I have been greatly motivated and inspired to be a part of a research study that gives voice to patients with advanced diseases who could lose their voices at some point in their disease trajectory. This study has confirmed to me how integrating research in clinical practice can greatly improve health outcomes through improved spiritual well-being, peacefulness, sense of meaning, and hope and quality of life of patients and their support persons. Through my involvement in this work I have become more attentive to the needs of people I encounter each day, and attentive to how I document care in a way that will enhance the integration of chaplaincy outcomes into the general plan of care for the patient.


Take us 10 years into the future. What’s different about chaplaincy then as a result of research literacy becoming a standard competency?

My hopes are many: I look forward to a time of much broader consistency in practice, including clear and effective ways to document care. This will serve as a bridge that reinforces the collaboration between chaplains and other members of the care team. We need also to translate best practices from paper to the bedside, with research informing clinical practice and clinical practice informing research. The profession will, I hope, have developed intentional ways of moving beyond observing and exploring to clearly communicating the nature of the relationship between religion, spirituality and health. I hope for more solid partnerships between chaplains and other members of interdisciplinary teams for greater health outcomes.


We’re grateful to Beba for contributing to our spotlight series.

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