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What Does a Hospital Chaplain Do?

Hospital chaplains offer spiritual support to all denominations.
A hospital chaplain may offer communion ceremonies.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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A hospital chaplain provides spiritual support in the hospital environment to patients, hospital staff, and family members. In the case of hospitals affiliated with a specific religious denomination, such as Catholic hospitals, the chaplain usually represents the same denomination, while other hospitals can choose chaplains from a variety of backgrounds. Many hospitals stress that although their chaplains belong to specific religious groups, the spiritual services provided are interfaith, meaning that people of all religious faiths will be respected, and that additional religious officiants can be provided upon request.

Chaplains can be found working in a number of environments. They may be fully ordained, as in the case of priests, pastors, and rabbis, or they may simply have received some training. Chaplainacy is often associated specifically with Christianity, but members of other faiths can and do act as chaplains.

In the case of a hospital chaplain, the chaplain works a shift in the hospital, often walking the halls to connect with people who might need spiritual support. He or she provides assistance for members of the staff who may be struggling with religious issues, and religious counseling is also offered to patients and family members. This person may lead religious services in the hospital's chapel or in patient rooms, and services such as Communion may also be offered.

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Chaplains may only attend patients by request, or they may visit all patients in the hospital. Their goal is to provide spiritual support and counseling to help people who may be experiencing spiritual distress, and to bring in other religious practitioners if they are needed. For example, a Baptist chaplain might bring in a rabbi for a Jewish patient, or a Catholic priest for a Catholic patient. Nondenominational counseling is also available. Chaplains may also sit with dying patients and their families to provide support, and they counsel family members dealing with situations varying from sudden death to ethical struggles over organ donation.

In many cases, a hospital chaplain is affiliated with a professional organization of chaplains. Membership usually implies a minimum standard of religious education that has often been paired with special training in health care issues. In other instances, the chaplain may simply be a member of the local clergy who is brought in to a hospital to provide spiritual support by request.

Patients usually have the right to refuse the chaplain's services and to determine the degree of support and intervention provided by him or her. Some, for example, may appreciate a chaplain who acts as a patient advocate, while others may prefer a more hands-off approach in which the chaplain provides religious support but not medical advice or assistance.

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Discuss this Article

anon925700
Post 8

@Jeanner: What hope does a non-religious, atheist, and/or humanist offer to a person with deep and immediate needs?

anon346169
Post 6

I am a non-denominational chaplain practicing in a hospital. My job duties are varied, dealing with sudden and tragic loss, infant and fetal loss, critical incident stress management, spiritual support and exploration of one's own spirituality and direction, support for those who are non-religious or non-affiliated, emotional support through crisis, addiction and change, pastoral listening and support. I provide compassionate care and genuine concern for those persons who are suffering without judging them or their decisions.

Jeanner
Post 4

You are completely ignoring the pastoral care of non-religious/atheist/humanist patients in hospitals/hospices.

I serve as a humanist chaplain at King's College Hospital London and the head of Chaplaincy always says, "Another no dog collar request."

Non religious people need to speak to people with a similar outlook on life and ethics who do not believe in the supernatural/afterlife, especially at the end of life.

honeybees
Post 3

I have to say, I don't know if I could handle hospital chaplain training. I know that they have to be good listeners and compassionate, which I don't think I'd have a problem with, but I don't know if I could handle the actual hands-on part of the training -- you know, talking to people who are seriously ill and dying.

I really respect those who can do it though -- I think that would be such an incredible test of faith.

sunshined
Post 2

@subway11 - I agree with your post. A hospice chaplain can also be a huge source of comfort for both the patient and their families.

I have encountered hospice chaplains several times when I have been visiting friends and family, and their genuine, caring interest has been very soothing to everyone in the room.

They have not been pushy, but let you know they are available if needed.

subway11
Post 1

I just wanted to say that the hospital chaplain program offers a lot of peace to the families of the victims. When both my mother and father were dying in the hospital the hospital chaplain really made us feel so much better.

His presence immediately made us feel more at peace and I appreciated the blessings and prayers for both of my parents. It is really remarkable how soothing a prayer can make you feel in those difficult times.

I felt a sudden rush of emotion followed by a deep release. I am so glad that hospitals have chaplains on staff. The families as well as the victims really need them.

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