A 10-Year Longitudinal Study of Effects of a Multifaceted Residency Spiritual Care Curriculum: Clinical Ability, Professional Formation, End of Life, and Culture

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2016 Dec;52(6):859-872.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2016.06.006. Epub 2016 Oct 3.


Context: Although spiritual care (SC) is recognized as important in whole-person medicine, physicians infrequently address patients' spiritual needs, citing lack of training. Although many SC curricula descriptions exist, few studies report effects on physicians.

Objectives: To broadly examine immediate and long-term effects of a required, longitudinal, residency SC curriculum, which emphasized inclusive patient-centered SC, compassion, and spiritual self-care.

Methods: We conducted in-depth individual interviews with 26 physicians (13 intervention; 13 comparison) trained at a 13-13-13 residency. We interviewed intervention physicians three times over 10 years-1) preintervention, as PGY1s, 2) postintervention, as PGY3s, 3) eight-year postintervention, as practicing physicians. We interviewed comparison physicians as PGY3s. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed by four researchers.

Results: Forty-nine interviews were analyzed. General: Both groups were diverse regarding personal importance of spirituality/religion. All physicians endorsed the value of SC, sharing rich patient stories particularly related to end of life and cultural diversity. Curricular effects: 1) skills/barriers-intervention physicians demonstrated progressive improvements in clinical approach, accompanied by diminishing worries related to SC. PGY3 comparison physicians struggled with SC skills and worries more than PGY3 intervention physicians, 2) physician formation-most physicians described residency as profoundly challenging and transformative. Even after eight years, many intervention physicians noted that reflection on their diverse beliefs and values in safety, coupled with compassion shown to them through this curriculum, had deeply positive effects. High impact training: patient-centered spiritual assessment; chaplain rounds; spiritual self-care workshop/retreats; multicultural SC framework.

Conclusion: A longitudinal, multifaceted residency SC curriculum can have lasting positive effects on physicians' SC skills and their professional/personal formation.

Keywords: Spiritual care; cultural diversity; curriculum; end-of-life; professional formation; residency education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Curriculum*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Religion and Medicine
  • Self Care
  • Spirituality*
  • Terminal Care