Balboni: Training Community Clergy in Serious Illness: Balancing Faith and Medicine

 

Abstract

Community-based clergy are highly engaged in helping seriously ill patients address spiritual concerns at the end of life (EOL). While they desire EOL training, no data exist in guiding how to conceptualize a clergy-training program. The objective of this study was used to identify best practices in an EOL training program for community clergy. As part of the National Clergy Project on End-of-Life Care, the project conducted key informant interviews and focus groups with active clergy in five US states (California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas). A diverse purposive sample of 35 active clergy representing pre-identified racial, educational, theological, and denominational categories hypothesized to be associated with more intensive utilization of medical care at the EOL. We assessed suggested curriculum structure and content for clergy EOL training through interviews and focus groups for the purpose of qualitative analysis. Thematic analysis identified key themes around curriculum structure, curriculum content, and issues of tension. Curriculum structure included ideas for targeting clergy as well as lay congregational leaders and found that clergy were open to combining resources from both religious and health-based institutions. Curriculum content included clergy desires for educational topics such as increasing their medical literacy and reviewing pastoral counseling approaches. Finally, clergy identified challenging barriers to EOL training needing to be openly discussed, including difficulties in collaborating with medical teams, surrounding issues of trust, the role of miracles, and caution of prognostication. Future EOL training is desired and needed for community-based clergy. In partnering together, religious–medical training programs should consider curricula sensitive toward structure, desired content, and perceived clergy tensions.

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