Ministry Health Care provides pastoral education to fill pipeline for chaplaincy jobs

October 1, 2014


In a rural area where it had been difficult to recruit qualified chaplains, Ministry Health Care in central and northern Wisconsin created its own solution by starting a clinical pastoral education program based out of Ministry Saint Clare's Hospital in Weston.

Ministry Health Care has hired more than a dozen students as chaplains to serve in its facilities out of a total of about three dozen people who have taken part in the program, said Sue Kruger, coordinator for Ministry Health Care's clinical pastoral education program.

Chaplain and nurse
Chaplain and Episcopal Deacon Amanda Sampey and intensive care unit nurse Paul Mundt confer about a patient at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston, Wis.

Ministry Health Care's multi-faith clinical pastoral education program started in 2010. It became accredited last year by the Decatur, Ga.-based Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, the only organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for providing clinical pastoral education.

Clinical pastoral education allows pastors, seminarians and chaplaincy students to improve their ministry and pastoral care skills. Many religious denominations require one unit of clinical pastoral education among the requirements for ordination. To become a board-certified chaplain, major accrediting bodies require four units. A unit of education includes 100 hours of classroom training and 300 hours of clinical training providing pastoral care for patients, their families and health care facility staff under the supervision of chaplain mentors. Those who take part in the Ministry Health Care program primarily provide that care at Ministry Health Care facilities, but some complete their clinical training at other facilities where a certified chaplain agrees to supervise, Kruger said.

A few years ago, when an individual living in northern Wisconsin wanted to become a chaplain or was preparing for the ministry and needed to complete a unit or more in clinical pastoral education, the nearest training site was Oshkosh, Wis., about a two hour drive from Weston, said Kruger.

Now Ministry Health Care's program attracts students who live closer to its rural Wisconsin facilities. Ministry Saint Clare's Hospital is the most central location in the Ministry Health Care system, which is part of St. Louis-based Ascension Health. Current students in the clinical pastoral education program live anywhere from 25 to 95 miles away from that hospital, and several of them, who travel for the classes, reside in or close to other communities where Ministry Health Care has facilities — those students may end up working close to home. Chaplains "we know and love and trust come out of this program," Kruger said.

In some cases, people who started out just needing a unit of clinical pastoral education continued on in the program, completing enough education to become a chaplain.

That was the case for Amanda Sampey. The former television station advertising executive began studying clinical pastoral education because she felt called to become a deacon in the Episcopal Church. As part of her requirements for ordination, the busy working mother needed to complete a unit of clinical pastoral education, and with the new program, she was able to do it in Weston, where she lives.

She, like others in the program, first met in a group for classroom education about ways to minister to others. Once the students begin ministering to patients, patient family members or hospital staff under the supervision of a chaplain, the students share the details of their ministerial encounters in group exercises called verbatims. Student colleagues and an instructor point out ways in which the student effectively provided care and demonstrated concern, and offer suggestions for improvement. For instance, a student may realize during a verbatim exercise that he or she commented about a bouquet of flowers in a patient's room just as a conversation was turning more difficult, and a patient was talking about coping with an illness. The exercise helps students think through their approach and techniques when providing care. The students learn to recognize and overcome instincts to avoid painful conversations and to stay engaged with patients who want to discuss illness or death.

In learning how to minister to patients, staff and family in Ministry Health Care hospital and hospice settings, Sampey discovered she has a talent for providing comfort and spiritual care to the sick, the dying and those who love and care for them. She was hired to work as a chaplain with Ministry Home Care — Hospice and Ministry Saint Clare's Hospital.

Sampey traded in her high heel pumps for Dansko shoes — her "mission shoes" that can quietly propel her down a hospital corridor as she visits patients' bedsides. She also has continued on to become an Episcopal deacon. She said, "I found I could sit with people who were (sick or) dying and bring peace. Who knows why? But there is where I feel comfortable."

There are more than 450 sites accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education in the United States, and the association continues to encourage the establishment of training programs in areas where it doesn't yet have programs.

"We work to develop new programs wherever there is need and interest," said Trace Haythorn, executive director of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. Rev. Gary Sartain, a minister with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serves as the director for the north central region of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. He helped develop the program at Ministry Health Care.

Haythorn said programs in more remote or rural areas, which are often small programs, can struggle especially as compared with those in urban or suburban settings, which may find it easier to attract more pastoral training supervisors and students. But Ministry Health Care is taking steps to sustain its program. Kruger said potential students already are calling about spring enrollment.

Instructor Kate Sullivan is the current program supervisor. Kruger is training for an associate supervisory role, deepening her knowledge of theology, education theory, ethics and her self-awareness and listening skills, so that she can teach others to be more effective spiritual care providers. Kruger is a board-certified chaplain at Ministry Good Samaritan Health Center, a critical access hospital in Merrill, Wis.

Kruger said the program has helped create a pool of professionals well trained in clinical pastoral education, many of whom are continuing on as chaplains, whether for Ministry Health Care or at other facilities. Patients working with those who have studied in the program report they're having meaningful conversations with and receiving support from the chaplains they meet with in Ministry Health Care facilities, she said.


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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