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.
Our 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.