Thursday, April 26, 2007

One Chaplain's Perspective

I participate in a Yahoo group for chaplains in One Person Departments. One of our ongoing topics is the stress many of us feel trying to balance the patient care, the experience of our initial call, and the administrative responsibilities that we all have. And we certainly do have those. Indeed, the smaller the institution, the more likely we are to have them. That’s partly a result of smaller leadership groups, and partly a result of our related greater visibility.

Still, those responsibilities do take us away from the bedside. And since that’s where we first found our vocation, emotionally it’s that much harder to be pulled away. So, we wrestle in our hearts, and we wrestle with our roles.

This is my most recent post to the list. In its way, it expresses my own sense of where my call is today, and how I seek to live it out.

I have struggled with my own perspective, but less so as the years go by. I did, though, have to reframe my sense of what I can do, and so my intent toward what I will do.

My stated intent is to create (or contribute significantly to creating, depending on my audience) a compassionate culture for care. That certainly includes bedside care, and for my hospital's size my referrals are about proportional to Tim's, if not a bit higher. That also includes good "industrial chaplaincy" in caring for staff. If I show them good care, both in the sense of providing it and modeling it, I believe they will be more sensitive to spiritual needs, and both make better referrals and provide more sensitive support themselves.

But in addition, that puts some perspective on the administrative time, orienting staff or chairing the Ethics Committee or participating in Joint Commission preparation. Yeah, it often feels far from the bedside; but I have seen how it affects what happens at the bedside. I have also seen how it confirms my authority with the administration so that when there is an issue I feel it important to raise, I know I will be heard.

I have often compared this to our parochial colleagues who speak of their role as empowering the ministries of all the people of God. I can't use quite the same language in the hospital, but I can maintain the same perspective. Everyone here contributes, for good or ill, to the explicit and implicit ways that patients and families experience spiritual support. If I can shape the culture, I have a shot at benefiting every patient - something I couldn't do focusing only on bedside care - and I can focus my specific gifts and specialized training on those needs and events to which they're best suited.

Now, I'm an Episcopal chaplain in an Episcopal health system; and so when I introduce myself as the "Owner's Rep," they smile, but they listen. Still, working to shape the experience of all patients will, I believe, go much farther than I can go on my own.

(And on some bad days I still add to that, "or so I tell myself.")

No comments: