Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Reflections on My Week-Long Experience at Chaplaincy Research Summer Institute



Chaplain Patricia E. Kelly, M.Div., BCC, ACPE Certified Educator, Baylor Scott & White Health


CRSI 2023  Faculty and Students, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

I have a B.S. in Finance and it is my finance background that informs my philosophy to say that numbers can tell a story. Well, I learned during my week-long time at the 2023 Chaplaincy Research Summer Institute (CRSI) that the same applies to research. Research can write a story, open doors to opportunities, and cause you to ask more questions.  I must admit that I was really scared when the week started. My knowledge of chaplaincy research was limited, and I was in uncharted waters. 2023 CRSI was hosted by Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, California. The hospital setting helped set the tone for learning about research and helped set the tone for my own self-discovery of having a passion for chaplaincy research. Every day as I walked to the hospital from the hotel, I passed buildings on the hospital campus that referenced research in various areas – i.e., women’s heart disease, cancer, and mental health. The setting helped cultivate my learning. As I tell my clinical pastoral education (CPE) students get curious and I GOT CURIOUS!!

Chaplaincy Research Summer Institute nickname is “summer camp.”  When I think of summer camp it elicits memories of fun-filled days with a ton of activities that fill your day. Well, our “summer camp” was just that. Every moment we were learning something about research and exploring research from a new perspective. Our faculty included George Fitchett, Kate Piderman, Annelieke Damen, Shelley Varner Perez, and Csaba Szilagyi. They were a wealth of knowledge. Andrew Andresco was our point person from the start of the process and made sure that everything went without a hitch. He was the person in the background that ensured that the program went well. The faculty was approachable and created a safe environment for asking questions. For example, Tuesday morning Dr. George Fitchett led a session on PubMed search engine. When I used PubMed search engine in the past my results were limited, so I was extremely interested in this session. When George went over how to use PubMed it helped me so much. I saw what I was missing when I used the PubMed search engine. It was simple, easy to understand, and I was able to grasp the concept of this website. This expanded my knowledge, and I got excited about using this search engine instead of avoiding it. Another huge takeaway for me was meeting a diverse group of chaplains from all over the United States and being able to learn from them. Our cohort was rich in diverse cultures, genders, sexuality, ages, and education. The knowledge that everyone brought to CRSI made the learning extraordinarily rich. It expanded my perspectives and my dialogue.


Furthermore, the curriculum prepared for the Chaplaincy Research Summer Institute was exceedingly rich. Starting on the first day of “summer camp” the faculty introduced us to research, evidence-based practice, and chaplaincy research. In addition, the faculty led various sessions on chaplaincy research projects, presentations on qualitative research methods, introduction to the REDCap database, and how to measure the quantitative methods. The prolific curriculum included an extensive reading list developed by the faculty. The reading list covered basic chaplaincy research, chaplaincy research case studies, overviews of qualitative research and other readings that related to our curriculum sessions. One of my favorite sessions during the week was our small group sessions on Tuesday – Thursday afternoons. After lunch four of my cohorts and our mentor, Csaba Szilagyi explored what topics we wanted to research. During those moments it was in this time where we integrated what we learned in the earlier sessions. This group allowed me to be vulnerable and I felt comfortable using my voice to explore what I wanted to research. I was safe to ask questions and this space provided me time to ask pointed questions and dialogue with my peers one-on-one. I even got the courage to volunteer to be one of the four people to present a project on our last day. These sessions helped me to use the CPE learning model – “action-reflection-action.”

In summary, I have concluded that research can be simple. I entered the week very scared and unsure about my own knowledge and skill set on evidence-based spiritual care. However, the first takeaway that became clear was research does not have to be complicated and you do not need to start from the beginning. For example, one of the case studies presented during “summer camp” proved that existing research data could be used in current research projects. Another takeaway from “summer camp” was to ask the obvious question when doing a research project. It is that obvious question that becomes a research project. Finally, as an ACPE Certified Educator, I left CRSI feeling challenged as both an educator and a staff chaplain to embrace research more. For example, currently in our CPE program, our second-year residents must do a research project, but CRSI has compelled me to find a way to incorporate basic research education in the first year of residency and single units of CPE. In conclusion, I am so glad that I attended this week-long class. The knowledge that I have gained has fueled my curiosity to learn more about chaplaincy research. I wished that every chaplain could attend CRSI and have the opportunity to learn more about chaplaincy research and how it could inform their praxis.

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