Dr Kate Jones

A new research Fellow joins the Institute for Ethics & Society

13 December 2019

As part of the Industry-Linked Early Career Researcher (ECR) Fellowship Scheme, The University of Notre Dame Australia is undertaking a new research project in partnership with St Vincent’s Health Australia that will investigate the need for spiritual care training for staff in the healthcare industry. The research will be conducted by Dr Kate Jones, who joined the University this month as a Research Fellow, working with a team led by Research Associate Dr Megan Best at the University’s Institute for Ethics & Society.

“Spirituality in healthcare refers to finding meaning in illness in order to answer existential questions that arise during a healthcare crisis,” explains Dr Best. “Research has demonstrated that Australian patients would like their spiritual needs addressed in the hospital setting. However, most members of staff do not know how to do this.”

This new project will aim to address the problem by evaluating the current level of staff understanding of spirituality and spiritual care, and subsequently developing evidence-based training modules that could potentially be used by healthcare professionals across a wide variety of care settings in future. The project will include a pilot training program evaluation at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.

“We are very pleased to be continuing our spiritual care research partnership with Notre Dame through this new project,” said Matthew Kearney, Director of Mission at St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney.

Our work with Megan and Kate is focused on supporting our staff to offer the best possible care to our patients, which is at the very heart of our Mission.

For about 18 years, Dr Jones has been a social worker at Royal Rehab in Sydney, mainly working with people with spinal cord injuries. She spent five of those years completing her PhD at Griffith University on spirituality and how it contributes towards family resilience after spinal cord injury and has also recently been working on spiritual care education.

“The thing that came out of my PhD was that spirituality is very important to people – and that’s ‘spirituality’ in a very broad understanding of the word,” says Dr Jones. “People draw on different sources of spiritual strength. It might be their faith or the natural world or a meaningful relationship that gives their life meaning. These sources of spirituality help people make sense of life and their injury, and that leads to positive outcomes such as feelings of gratitude or hopefulness, which in turn contribute to their resilience in recovery.”

However, when Dr Jones interviewed staff in the spinal injury unit she found that they did not feel confident to provide the spiritual care that patients seemed to need, so she began to think about developing ways to train them and help prepare healthcare professionals for difficult conversations that come up as part of their work. "Spirituality really does contribute to resilience in healthcare and we need to tap into that,” she says.

“I think this is a unique opportunity that Notre Dame has because of the philosophy of the University,” Dr Jones adds. Similarly to Notre Dame’s holistic approach to education, this research ties in with the Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Model of healthcare which acknowledges that it’s a whole person who comes into the health context and they have a range of needs. “It’s not just about getting a person physically rehabilitated. It’s about the whole person. How are they coping? What meaning are they holding in their life as they move forward in their treatment?”

Dr Best agrees: “Every health problem is potentially an existential event as we all need to find meaning in our experiences in order to cope with them. Obviously existential problems will occur frequently in a healthcare setting. It is therefore critical to person-centred care that we empower staff to identify and assist those patients who need spiritual support.”

If you are interested in partnering with Notre Dame on a research project, please contact our Industry Engagement Coordinator, Dr Bahareh Badrian on bahareh.badrian@nd.edu.au or +61 8 9433 0689.

Media Contact: Breyon Gibbs : +61 8 9433 0569 | breyon.gibbs@nd.edu.au