Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Why I Enrolled in a MPH Program

Elizabeth Kitamura, MA, BCC

Chaplain, Spiritual Care Team

NYU Langone Health

New York, New York

            Since my first unit of CPE, I was drawn to research and spiritual care and doing my residency at Rush University was the perfect learning opportunity for me. Being privy to national webinars, being taught introductory research concepts by their team, and having the opportunity to discuss research in my rudimentary clinical practice made for a life-giving and life-changing year. Through connections at Rush, I learned about a CPE Research Fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and my newly married husband and I moved to Ohio after our postponed honeymoon. I was lucky enough to work with a great fellow, a world class staff, and top notch chaplain researchers – Daniel Grossoehme and Judy Ragsdale. The program allowed for my continued growth as a chaplain and built out my chaplain researcher base. It began to feel like spiritual care and health research was a good fit me. I loved our qualitative research process – interviewing participants, coding as a team, and thinking as a group and wanted to learn more about how to do it.

            After my CCHMC experience, I spoke with other chaplain researchers in the field to discern the most appropriate next steps. There appeared to be a number of educational possibilities, but the MPH seemed to be a good fit for giving me harder science skills after my liberal arts undergraduate and graduate degrees. Regression? Epidemiology? Those were never on my mind, but I knew that I needed to understand them and pursuing a MPH seemed like the best fit.

            As I applied for jobs, I also asked about educational opportunities. NYU Langone Health is an academic medical center devoted to serve, teach, and discover. They live out these values by offering a generous ongoing education benefit to staff and I availed myself of the opportunity by applying to the NYU School of Global Public Health in the fall of 2019. I remember opening my email in February 2020 as my husband and I explored some local towns and was overjoyed and terrified at my acceptance to the MPH program with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences. This particular concentration focused on research skills and though three semesters of statistics terrified me, I knew that it was necessary if I wanted to eventually run my own research projects.

            Yes, my epidemiology and biostatistics courses were hard. Thankfully it was hard for other students too, and we supported each other through virtual study groups. I enjoyed my courses in Global Issues in Social and Behavioral Health course and Global Environmental Health. I often reflected on the health and spiritual experience of the patient or loved one in front of me, but my MPH journey has helped me think about the upstream factors of public health and opened up a new world of health to me. My classes have a way of intersecting with the exact issue I am encountering in the hospital. For example, a social worker was brainstorming how to support the medical team as they cared for a pediatric patient with lead poisoning. My professor at the time focused on lead poisoning for the local health department and I gave the social worker information on the local hotlines for reporting lead poisoning, something we learned about in class. Lead poisoning does not seem related to spiritual care, but I learned that religious jewelry or other amulets from overseas are often sources of lead especially for young pediatric patients who are exploring their world with their mouths.

            As I finish my course work, (two more semesters!), I am bringing my MPH into focus with my work as a Palliative Care Chaplain. I am using my advanced practice experience to work on a scoping review with my colleagues. My knowledge from the MPH is helping me relate to many student learners across the hospital and it has been great to trade work/school stories with other colleagues from multidisciplinary backgrounds. We are not the only fields expanding our knowledge through the MPH degree! Pursuing my MPH opened up new collegial relationships in my institution and with fellow chaplains across the country and around the world.

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