Elizabeth J. Berger is a multi-faith Advanced Practice Board Certified Chaplain, a narrative medicine specialist, researcher, consultant and speaker. She completed her 1600 hours of training in clinical pastoral care at Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, where she was assigned to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.
Inspired by the stories of her clinician colleagues, Elizabeth then earned her Master of Science in narrative medicine at Columbia University, where her research focus was improving patient care and safety using narrative medicine as a vehicle for team building, self-assessment and self-care among healthcare professionals.
Elizabeth teaches medical humanities and professional formation at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. She has presented internationally on narrative medicine, spirituality in medicine and well-being and performance in clinical practice.
Elizabeth maintains a private telechaplaincy practice specializing in support for healthcare professionals. She is also an ordained member of the Jewish clergy.
Medical professionalism for the new millennium.
Elizabeth’s trainings improve spiritual competence in patient care while advancing the well-being of healthcare professionals, restoring soul to the practice of medicine by helping providers navigate uncertainty and engage in meaning-making in ways that transcend religion.
A ministry of taking care of people who take care of people.
Spirituality (which may or may not include formalized religious practice) is a dynamic through which persons seek meaning and ultimate purpose. Opportunities to assess meaning and purpose are recognized by experts including Dr. Christina Maslach, co-creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), as essential to addressing the cynicism and emotional exhaustion associated with professional burnout. Elizabeth’s mission is to promote inclusivity and wholeness by deconstructing persisting 20th-century associations of spirituality with anti-intellectualism.
Why is spiritual competence necessary in the clinical encounter?
In 2016, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) instituted policy changes to reimburse providers for advance care planning. The need for a shift at the intersection of medicine and spirituality—and specifically, cultural permission for healthcare professionals to engage in values clarification, spiritual self-assessment and self-care—is particularly significant given ethical considerations associated with CMS reimbursement policy that uniquely compels providers to be prepared to address the spiritual and existential components of patient care.
Mythic experiences, defined as “things that go beyond explanation,” happen all the time. Yet in the evidence-bound realm of Western medical culture, the accepted ideal is purged of mythic thinking, often with a stifling effect on the narratives of patients and clinicians alike. The silencing of certain kinds of stories, particularly those related to unexplainable events or spiritual belief, is a barrier to communication, shared decision-making and effective self-care among health professionals.
The psychologist Jerome Bruner proposed that world making is the principle function of the mind. Elizabeth draws from her secular upbringing and extensive training in narrative medicine, clinical pastoral care, negotiation and conflict resolution and mindful practice to invite healthcare professionals to explore world-making truths beyond the medical model. An important goal is to evaluate how these world-making truths might inform commitments to patient-centered care, clinical decision-making and relationships among members of the interprofessional team.
"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals. Only when we recognize our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
— Pema Chodron
* Statistics cited in bold above are hyperlinks to their original sources.