Spiritual Care Week 2021

National Spiritual Care Week recognizes spiritual caregivers

This year’s theme to focus on advancing spiritual care through research

Advancing spiritual care through spiritual care research. Spiritual care week Oct 24-30, 2021

By Malorie Burkett
VCU College of Health Professions

The Department of Patient Counseling in VCU’s College of Health Professions observes National Spiritual Care Week this year from Oct. 24-30, which gives opportunities for organizations and institutions of all kinds to recognize the spiritual caregivers in their midst and their ministry which the caregivers provide.

Spiritual Care Week/Pastoral Care Week is hosted by The COMISS Network, the Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings. The theme this year is “advancing spiritual care through research.”

“As a chaplain researcher, research being conducted by chaplains about our vocation is very important to me,” said Rev. Marilyn J.D. Barnes, chair of the Department of Patient Counseling, VCU College of Health Professions. “I honestly believe that my chaplain clinical practice informs my research, and my research informs my practice.”

Barnes will be presenting and serving on a webinar panel focusing on “How research informs my practice” during Spiritual Care Week. She says the Patient Counseling Department has conducted numerous research studies on the impact of the work chaplains do and within the department’s strategic plan, and they will continue that legacy.

According to the Spiritual Care Week website:
Today chaplains and spiritual care providers exist in a data-driven and evidence-based world, particularly for those who work in health settings. Thus, the need to provide empirical evidence related to the care provided by chaplains and spiritual care providers. The needed evidence may be gained through qualitative and quantitative research methods.

The VCU College of Health Professions Department of Patient Counseling will kick off Spiritual Care Week with the Good Grief Conference, designed to educate and equip interprofessional health care teams, chaplains, volunteer caregivers and others working with those experiencing grief, whether related to health crises, chronic or life-changing situations, end of life or bereavement issues. This year’s conference theme is “journeying through loss towards hope.”

During Spiritual Care Week, the VCU Health Department of Pastoral Care also will introduce a name change to the Department of Spiritual Care.

“As the vocation of Chaplaincy continues to evolve, we are changing from the department of Pastoral Care to Spiritual Care to be more inclusive,” said Barnes. “We are connecting with the spirit of those we serve regardless of their faith. As chaplains we offer spiritual and emotional care focusing on person-centered care and the name Spiritual Care better reflects what chaplains do at VCU Health. My hope is the name change will be embraced by the VCU Health System and facilitate a better understanding of what chaplains do as we care for staff, patients, and families.”

Additional events throughout the week also will include a department retreat, the Partners in Healing recognition ceremony and a service project in partnership with Caritas.

Since 1995, the Departments of Spiritual Care and Patient Counseling have recognized a total of 193 team members in other disciplines as Partners in Healing to honor individuals who go above and beyond their job descriptions, and who embody the principles of compassionate care for patients, their families, and are partners in healing with chaplains.

“The honorees advocate for spiritual care while incorporating it into their practice, directing their care not just toward the body, but also toward the head, heart and soul,” said Joshua Andrzejewski, assistant professor in the Department of Patient Counseling, and chaplain for the pediatric and women's health units at the VCU Medical Center. “As part of Spiritual Care Week, we honor our partners with a gathering to celebrate their dedication and devotion. Over the years, we have presented the award to nurses, physicians, members of environmental services, social workers, interpreters, volunteers from the community and many others throughout the health system and beyond.”

The week will culminate with a group service project, in which members of Patient Counseling and other partners from VCU Health, will assemble individual toiletry bags, which will be donated to those in need.

Now Accepting Applications for CPE

New students are required to be present for all days of orientation.  Hours are Monday-Friday, 8:00a – 4:30p.

Students will be asked to submit a schedule for completing clinical hours during Orientation.  Clinical hours should be completed by August 7. 

Fall 2022 CPE Information Sheet

Callahan interview

Jason Callahan

Humanist chaplain for the Thomas Palliative Care Unit at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center, Richmond, Virginia.

Jason Callahan

How has your work changed due to the pandemic?

The palliative care aspect of things has changed tremendously. Since we were getting ready for the potential influx of COVID-positive patients, for end-of-life care, we began finding options for patients who wanted to get discharged home. There is a lot more staff care being done because of the risks of being a caregiver in this environment and the toll it takes on people daily. We have taken on the family role as well. We loved our patients before, but now it means something else entirely.

What are some things that you do that you’ve found to be especially comforting for coronavirus patients and their families?

Constant communication is key. We just have to do that a lot more to reassure families and patients. Listening and finding a way to put pieces of them in the room goes a long way as well. I’ll get emails from families that will send me pictures to print up and post in the patients’ rooms. Or I will write down an inside joke from a family member and have the nurse read it to the patient when they go in, just to get a smile.

Has the pandemic changed how you feel about your work?

I feel like chaplains are more essential now than ever. If chaplains were expected to justify our presence in health care systems before, I bet now people are starting to see the need to have us clear as day.