Clinical Pastoral Education students provide comfort to patients and families

Jan 26,2011
As Jan Connell walked into the patient’s room, she wondered whether she was called there to offer comfort primarily to the patient, or to the patient’s family members.

The woman in the Intensive Care Unit bed was losing her battle with cancer, doctors said, and did not have long – maybe a few days – to live.

“I introduced myself to the patient and briefly spoke to her,” Connell said. “She appeared to be unresponsive and I wondered if she could really hear me. I remembered being told the sense of hearing is one of the last senses to deteriorate.”

A student in Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center’s Clinical Pastoral Education program, Connell has spent hundreds of hours offering comfort, solace and meaning to hospital patients and their family members when they need help coping with illness, surgery or at the end of life. Each situation is different, and the Clinical Pastoral Education program helps clergy, seminarians and other community members learn how to navigate these constantly shifting, uncharted waters.

Reflecting later in the classroom on her encounter with the dying cancer patient, Connell described her experience.

“What I recognized my role to be was that of a spiritual presence for both patient and family in a time of uncertainty and doubt,” she said. “Upon entering the room, I felt a need to be present to each person there.”

The class of five students discussed the case with Clinical Pastoral Instructor Rev. Kent Schaufelberger, grappling with issues such as how to assess what a patient or family members need, how to best fulfill those needs, and how to, if necessary, set aside one’s own religious and theological beliefs while facing sometimes intense situations in the hospital setting.

Discussing Connell’s attempts to determine what the family needed – what would bring them hope and solace – classmate Gary Ellison commented: “That’s a hard piece of the dance right there.”

Clinical Pastoral Education is professional education for ministry of all faiths in clinical settings. It brings theological students, qualified community members and ordained clergy into supervised encounters with people in crises. Out of an intense involvement with patients and family members in need, and from the feedback provided by peers and teachers, students develop new awareness of themselves and those to whom they minister.

“There are many reasons why a person may enroll in Clinical Pastoral Education,” said Schaufelberger, who is also the manager of Chaplain Services at Good Sam. “There is the opportunity for committed community members who are involved in visitation ministries within congregations to enhance their own skills.  Often, it can be a helpful process when a person is considering their “call” to ministry – to test that call by ministering to the ill and dying.  Other times, a clergyperson may explore the program to test out a change of career from parish ministry to chaplaincy.”

The Clinical Pastoral Education program at Good Sam recently earned accreditation by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc. Previously, the program was hosted as a satellite program of Legacy Health, for the past two years, and the Portland Veterans Administration Medical Center prior to that.

Clinical Pastoral Education has been offered at Good Sam since 2006, and 30 students have completed the program.

“The original intent was to provide an opportunity for local clergy to build upon skills that they already have developed to enhance their ministry amongst their congregants,” said Schaufelberger. “Clinical Pastoral Education requires intensive study of what motivates and supports one’s ministry—both through self reflection and feedback from a group of peers that meet weekly to study together.”

Weekly meetings include instruction in medical and ethical issues, listening skills, pastoral care and counseling with topics ranging from cancer, cardiac and trauma care to issues of religion and theology.  

The next Clinical Pastoral Education class at Good Sam will begin in September, 2011.  Information and applications may be found at www.acpe.edu.   

For more information, and to talk to Rev. Kent Schaufelberger about the program, call 541-768-5084.