‘Taking your place at the table’: an autoethnographic study of chaplains’ participation on an interdisciplinary research team
Background: There are many potential benefits to chaplaincy in transforming into a “research-informed” profession. However little is known or has been documented about the roles of chaplains on research teams and as researchers or about the effects of research engagement on chaplains themselves. This report describes the experience and impact of three chaplains, as well as tensions and challenges that arose, on one particular interdisciplinary team researching a spiritual assessment model in palliative care. Transcripts of our research team meetings, which included the three active chaplain researchers, as well as reflections of all the members of the research team provide the data for this descriptive, qualitative, autoethnographic analysis. Methods: This autoethnographic project evolved from the parent study, entitled “Spiritual Assessment Intervention Model (AIM) in Outpatient Palliative Care Patients with Advanced Cancer.” This project focused on the use of a well-developed model of spiritual care, the Spiritual Assessment and Intervention Model (Spiritual AIM). Transcripts of nine weekly team meetings for the parent study were reviewed. These parent study team meetings were attended by various disciplines and included open dialogue and intensive questions from non-chaplain team members to chaplains about their practices and Spiritual AIM. Individual notes (from reflexive memoing) and other reflections of team members were also reviewed for this report. The primary methodological framework for this paper, autoethnography, was not only used to describe the work of chaplains as researchers, but also to reflect on the process of researcher identity formation and offer personal insights regarding the challenges accompanying this process. Results: Three major themes emerged from the autoethnographic analytic process: 1) chaplains’ unique contributions to the research team; 2) the interplay between the chaplains’ active research role and their work identities; and 3) tensions and challenges in being part of an interdisciplinary research team. Conclusions: Describing the contributions and challenges of one interdisciplinary research team that included chaplains may help inform chaplains about the experience of participating in research. As an autoethnographic study, this work is not meant to offer generalizable results about all chaplains’ experiences on research teams. Research teams that are interdisciplinary may mirror the richness and efficacy of clinical interdisciplinary teams. Further work is needed to better characterize both the promise and pitfalls of chaplains’ participation on research teams.