CHRISTUS works to spur student, employee interest in mission, ethics careers

March 1, 2017


About 60 percent of Catholic health care mission leaders said in a 2013 CHA survey that they planned to retire by 2022. And more than 70 percent of Catholic health care ethicists said in a 2014 CHA survey that they planned to retire by 2029.

With a majority of mission leaders and ethicists in the ministry nearing retirement within the next dozen years — and with evidence that there's a shortage of prospective replacements in the career pipeline — CHA has been urging Catholic health systems and facilities to focus on succession planning for these positions in the near term.

CHRISTUS Health of Irving, Texas, is among the systems taking heed.


Becket Gremmels, CHRISTUS' system director of ethics, said ethics and mission leaders in the CHRISTUS system are developing and refining strategies for growing the pool of potential mission leaders and ethicists. Approaches include building up awareness of the fields among students, providing opportunities for employees early in their careers — and usually in health care roles — to break into the professions and offering educational opportunities and tuition reimbursement to staff so they can transition into mission and ethics departments.

"We're playing the long game here," Gremmels said, noting that it can take many years to recruit, educate and groom prospects for ethics and mission careers.

Raising awareness
John Brothers is CHRISTUS vice president of mission integration and leadership formation. He said, "There is a lack of awareness of these roles, and so people don't go into them. We're raising people's awareness of these roles in Catholic health care."



One way CHRISTUS sought to draw attention to career prospects in mission and ethics was by co-sponsoring SEEK2017. The five-day convention of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students drew almost 13,000 Catholic college and university students to San Antonio in January.

Over the course of the conference, 846 students stopped by the CHRISTUS booth, which was staffed by mission and ethics leaders and human resources recruiters from around CHRISTUS. About 100 of the students who stopped by expressed an interest in a mission or ethics career, and a few have followed up with Gremmels for more information.

Gremmels said he and other CHRISTUS ethicists and mission leaders watch for opportunities to take part in high school and college career days where they always put in a plug for careers in health care ethics and mission fields.

Long lead time
As CHA senior director of mission integration and leadership formation, Brian Smith heads an advisory committee and CHA practice area that have studied the succession challenge and are helping ministry members address it by providing consultation and resources. (Many of the resources are online at and See especially the "careers" sections of those webpages.) Smith said it's especially hard to recruit for leadership positions in Catholic mission and ethics departments because the skill sets are so specialized. Most mission leaders hold a master's degree and many bioethicists have doctorates.


Smith recommends that Catholic health organizations invest time and money now to develop a talent pool and groom future leaders. "You can't just wait for there to be an opening" then hope for a qualified candidate to apply, he said.

It takes many years and substantial financial resources to prepare academically to be a mission leader or ethicist. Gremmels and Brothers point out that before that resource hurdle can be surmounted, another barrier must tumble. Relatively few students even consider studying for ethicist and mission careers, in no small part because they don't know they exist.

"It's kind of an obscure field," Gremmels said of mission and ethics work. "My own parents and wife don't fully understand what I do," he joked.

CHRISTUS Health sponsored a booth at the SEEK2017 convention of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students to raise awareness of career opportunities in mission and ethics within Catholic health care. Stephen Kazanjian, vice president of mission integration at CHRISTUS Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi, Texas, at right in foreground, speaks with an attendee at the meeting held in January at a San Antonio convention center.
Multiple fronts
CHRISTUS has more than 40 hospitals and a network of other facilities in six U.S. states, as well as in Chile, Mexico and Colombia. Gremmels and Brothers said over the next several years, CHRISTUS will be looking to fill mission and ethics leadership posts at the system, regional and facility levels. CHRISTUS has 20 mission and ethics jobs throughout the system, estimates Gremmels. Though there currently are no open full-time positions in these fields at CHRISTUS, said Gremmels, "Given the recent and upcoming expansions of our system, there will likely be several new positions in the next few years."


To help make sure there will be qualified candidates, the system has internship and fellowship opportunities for people who have an education in mission and ethics areas but lack experience. Gremmels is mentoring a few undergraduate and graduate students, and other CHRISTUS leaders are doing the same.

CHRISTUS ethics and mission leaders also are on the lookout for colleagues in other departments who have expressed an interest in a mission or ethics career, or have demonstrated traits and skills that might make them well suited to such work.

CHRISTUS provides tuition reimbursement to offset education costs for individuals pursuing an academic degree, including degrees that will prepare them for a mission or ethics post. Four mission leaders at the system currently are taking classes in mission integration. CHRISTUS also has an intensive internship program that exposes prospects to the mission leader role.

Flying the flag
Gremmels and Brothers staffed the CHRISTUS booth at SEEK2017 and both men said they were heartened by the high level of enthusiasm and interest among students. The vast majority of students were unaware of the extent of the church's presence in health care, and the wide variety of career paths available at ministry facilities came as news to them, the two said. Gremmels noted that there's a strong desire among millennials to pursue careers with an altruistic purpose. And careers in faith-based health care can fill this bill, he said.

Budding interest
Sophia Druffner, Brandon Ruiz and Nicole Breaux followed up with Gremmels after meeting him at the booth.

Druffner, 19, is on track to graduate in two years and is completing her premed classes. She hopes to be a physician in family practice, surgery or ICU care; and is also considering religious life. She said she's had a long-standing interest in bioethics and, "I have actually seriously considered being a Catholic bioethicist after I saw the booth (and spoke with Gremmels), although I still intend on going to medical school."

Ruiz, 22, is graduating this spring and plans to pursue a doctorate in bioethics. He said bioethics "is the career path God is calling me to." After talking to Gremmels, "I now have a stronger drive to continue on my career path," Ruiz said. He said the insight and resources Gremmels provided have "helped shape my understanding of the field."

Breaux, 23, will graduate in the spring of 2018 with a master's of health administration. Information she learned at the CHRISTUS booth piqued her interest in a career in health care ethics, and she's since been in touch with Gremmels, inquiring about internship and residency opportunities with CHRISTUS. She said she'd like to work at CHRISTUS someday.

"I would love to get to help people while at the same time being able to defend and fight for our faith," she said. "I can think of nothing better than working in a hospital that aligns with my faith."


Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.