What does a Hospital Chaplain do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Hospital chaplains offer spiritual support to all denominations.
Hospital chaplains offer spiritual support to all denominations.

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.

A hospital chaplain may offer communion ceremonies.
A hospital chaplain may offer communion ceremonies.

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.

Chaplains may be fully ordained, as in the case of priests.
Chaplains may be fully ordained, as in the case of priests.

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.

Hospital chaplains may provide support to families of emergency care patients in critical condition.
Hospital chaplains may provide support to families of emergency care patients in critical condition.

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.

A hospital chaplain may read uplifting passages to patients.
A hospital chaplain may read uplifting passages to patients.

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.

Hospital chaplains may counsel family members struggling with the ethics of organ donation.
Hospital chaplains may counsel family members struggling with the ethics of organ donation.
A hospital chaplain will provide spiritual support for the hospital staff, as well as patients.
A hospital chaplain will provide spiritual support for the hospital staff, as well as patients.
Chaplains might lead people in prayer.
Chaplains might lead people in prayer.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon1001047

Hospice is even worse. They lie. They just drug people til they die. My Dad got double pneumonia under their care because they refused to report it, saying they don't treat new diseases. I had to call him an ambulance and it took a week to get over that he almost died. Same hospice treatment two more times. I wont talk to the evil people any more.

anon1001046

The non-denominational socialist atheist interlopers are intrusive. They get in the way of people saying goodbye to their loved ones. Mine was on his way to play golf when he was burdened with coming by. I told hm to get out.

Quote the scripture to one and they shy way and skulk off to worship their atheism devil. Don't dress up like "as you atheists say" "dog collar" and misrepresent yourself. Hospitals only hire them to get organ donations.

anon925700

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

anon346169

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

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

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

@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

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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