Caring for the Spirit: Behind the scenes with our Pastoral Care Team

It’s 2 a.m. in the Emergency Department and our Trauma Team is on alert. A young child is en route; the victim of a house fire. The medical team prepares in the Trauma Room and among them is a member of our pastoral care team. One of our staff chaplains is on-call 24 hours a day responding to every trauma and code as a fully integrated member of the care team – to bring comfort and support wherever and however a family might need it. That might be prayer or just a quiet, comforting presence at an incredibly difficult time.

Pastoral Care Group PhotoOur Pastoral Care Team describes this as a “Ministry of Presence” – supporting people however they might need it, regardless of their faith or denomination In fact, the hospital’s chaplains resemble a United Nations of faith. They represent many nationalities and religious backgrounds but they all share extensive training in hospital ministry and a special passion for helping children and families.

I had the chance to sit down with Susan Kyser, our Director for Pastoral Care and her Coordinator, Sarah Reed. Susan has been at Children’s for 26 years and Sarah for 13 years. Their combined experience is incredible and it was a special opportunity to learn more about their work. These women know how to make you comfortable and there’s something calming about just being in their presence.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital has offered pastoral care support since the hospital opened more than 121 years ago and we have had a fully staffed internal department since 1976. After seeing the most challenging moments that life has to offer both Susan and Sarah still describe their work as a gift. As Susan noted, “to see the resilience of the human spirit.”

Each day for the team begins with a report-out from the night chaplain and a moment for team prayer before heading out to their day’s work on the units. No two days are alike and Susan and her team find it rewarding to not know what may be ahead for them. She emphasizes that in times of crisis someone’s religious beliefs are often not as important as supporting their spirit – understanding what they might need at that moment. Chaplains are assigned to every unit of the hospital and they also train aspiring chaplains from seminaries throughout the area. The hospital welcomes visiting faith leaders from any patient’s home church but with so many patients coming regionally and nationally, this often isn’t possible.

Support from Pastoral Care also extends to our nearly 10,000 staff especially those dealing with the grief following the loss of a patient.  The Chaplains host workshops on various topics and also hold services and memorials in our interfaith chapel.  Their work extends out into the community including visits to schools that are grieving the loss of a fellow student. It’s all in a day’s work and Susan emphasizes how much the patients and families teach them every day.

So what does it take to be a hospital chaplain?  More than 1600 hours of training in a clinical setting are required and that’s after the candidate has finished their Master’s degree and is Ordained in their chosen faith. Working with children and supporting families, often in crisis, requires a special skill set. Susan and Sarah specifically look for the energy, kindness and the ability to be present in even the most stressful situations, often just as a listening ear.

Thanks to Susan and Sarah for sharing a bit of their world with me – I always feel uplifted when I spend time with them.  Would love to hear about your stories about our Chaplains and what they’re meant to you as staff or a patient family.

Donna Teach
Donna Teach is Chief Marketing & Communication Officer at Nationwide Children's. Her job is to help the hospital feel "connected" – Connected to each other, connected to our patients and their families, referring physicians, the community and the world.

5 thoughts on “Caring for the Spirit: Behind the scenes with our Pastoral Care Team

  1. Lora M. Walker - new UC in Infectious Disease on said:

    It was an incredible honor for me to be able to join the team at NCH in January 2013. During orientation for pastoral care, I wept openly as grief from many years ago once again swept over me. Twenty 28 years ago my husband and his previous wife’s 9 year old daughter Tessa, was rushed here after an aneurysm ruptured in her brain. She arrived on a Friday during a January snowstorm. Saturday morning it ruptured again and surgery was performed. That same evening they said she was “brain dead”. Tests were performed Sunday and Monday. Life-support for Tessa was terminated on Monday and then she gave the gift of life to others with donations of her porcelain skin, kidneys and beautiful blue eyes. (grin) The anniversary of her passing was the same weekend as my orientation. Back then, there were papers to sign and a final brief goodbye at her bedside. To hear the pastor describe the services NCH offers and provides now for families of patients who pass away was a complete 180 degree turn from what happened to us. It was bittersweet for me; thrilled to know the hospital has progressed so much in a positive way for parents losing a child, and broken hearted that none of the services were available for us back then. Nancy was the pastor who spoke during my orientation. She saw my tears streaming down my cheeks and came over to me. Her compassion radiated from her as she placed her hand on my shoulder, leaned in and asked if I was okay. I silently nodded and thanked her. It was obvious she was the perfect person for her job! NCH should definitely be proud of each individual in their pastoral care program!!!!!! As a (step) parent who has been there….you have no idea how much wonderful support your presence means to those who receive it. Thanks for all you do!!!!!!!

    Lora M. Walker on behalf of my husband Roger Walker (deceased) and his beloved first daughter Tessa Ann Walker

    1. Kathie Mead on said:

      I am not even sure how i landed on this story… we lived next to roger and Debby walker in Trenton many years ago… Tessa and my son jack were inseparable… Debby and roger moved away when Tessa was about 5 i think… we never were able to stay in touch with them for whatever reason… after nearly 40 years i had no idea what happened to the family mostly little Tessa that my son loved so much… thanks so much for sharing this story… even after all these years its still devastating to learn what happened to them…

  2. greg owens on said:

    please add daily mass at childrens hospital columbus 12 pm each day and hopefully add ewtn to the patient tv system I was grieving and could have used it for my support please please please

  3. When our son was admitted to the NICU I kept putting “things” in my head to help me through our son’s stay. The first was, as long as I don’t have to leave the hospital without him, “all is okay”, (when that didn’t happen) then it was if he is out before the end of the month, “all is oaky” and then it was “if he doesn’t have to go to the main hospital, “all is okay”, and the list kept changing as our son’s stay progressed. One of the timelines I had in my mind that became such an emotional milestone was that I wanted him home in time for his baptism. During my pregnancy we made plans for our son’s baptism at the Cathedral far enough in advance to make sure my out-of-state family could be in town for a very special sacrament in our Faith. As we progressed toward that very important date, I had some real struggles. I just wanted that “one special time” to go right for our son. It looked like it wasn’t going to happen. We have known Fr. Sylvester from his time with St. Mary’s Parish. When our son was admitted to the NICU at the main campus, we found comfort in knowing a friendly and compassionate face would be there for us. We couldn’t imagine the imprint he would have on our family’s life. Fr. Sylvester, with the assistance of the Pastoral Team, allowed us to use the Chapel for our son’s baptism. He put things in motion to make sure that a very important sacrament in our son’s life and our families Faith would be cherished and enjoyed for the celebration it was. It wasn’t what I had planned, but it was such a wonderful, meaningful and encouraging day. Our son’s baptism was the first time we left the NICU as a family. It was our first mass as a family. Those memories are just a few of the “firsts” that make me smile and rejoice. Your pastoral team is such a great asset to the patients and families at NCH. A special thanks also to Ben whom was on staff during a good portion of our stay.

    Thank you for being compassionate individuals whom help families.

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