Oct. 20 through 26 marks 27 years of Pastoral Care Week celebrations. Organizations and institutions throughout the world will use this week to honor the spiritual care being given to patients by professional chaplains.
Father Bryan Lamberson, a KentuckyOne Health chaplain, has been a Catholic priest for the last thirteen years. However, “I’m only in my third year as a chaplain with Jewish Hospital and Sts. Mary & Elizabeth.”
Many priests choose to minister to congregations. For Lamberson, “the hospital is my parish. Most priests don’t have a clue as to what a precaution sign on a hospital door means. They don’t know that they need to use gloves, a gown, a mask.”
To be a hospital chaplain is to be a health care worker as well as a spiritual caregiver, the priest said. It means being familiar with patient confidentiality laws, Joint Commission guidelines, infection control precautions, and so much more.
“I serve two masters,” Lamberson said. “I am a priest with the Archdiocese of Louisville, so the archbishop is my boss. Then I follow all the policies and procedures mandated by health care. You’re a priest — or a Baptist minister — or a rabbi — PLUS. You have this additional layer of immersion into the health care system.”
Lamberson officially became a board-certified chaplain in July of this year.
“Certification requires two main pieces,” the priest said. “One is a master’s degree in some area of spirituality, which could be theology or canon law, for example. The other piece you need to have is four units of clinical pastoral education. This is the clinical chaplain training.”
Some chaplains achieve board certification in a one-year residency, Lamberson said. But “I was not able to do it all at once, so I did units in different years.”
Because Lamberson is Catholic, his board certification comes from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. Similar bodies exist for chaplains of other faith traditions.
After the clinical pastoral education is completed, “you have to jump through a lot of hoops,” Lamberson said. “You have to present yourself to a certifying body and answer tons and tons of questions with written responses. If they are pleased with your written responses, you travel to a nearby city – I went to Chicago – and they put you through the wringer verbally.”
People are often familiar with board-certified orthopedic surgeons and neurologists and radiologists, the priest said. For chaplains, “it’s much the same thing. Agreed-upon standards have been met in somebody’s training. It’s really quite a deal! And we have to remain certified by completing 50 hours of continuing education annually.”
Twenty five years ago, before he ever thought of entering the seminary, Lamberson was a phlebotomist – a health care worker who drew people’s blood for lab tests. But “I always felt more drawn to the human aspects of that encounter,” he said. “There were always very sacred moments in these circumstances.”
That awareness led Lamberson to engage in a process of attempting to discern what God’s plan was for his life. The answer merged the priesthood with care of the sick.
“I’m a guy who, because I used to work in health care — I’m not put off by blood and guts,” Lamberson said. “I know of priests who wouldn’t be caught dead in that setting.”
To the priest, health care is more than “the symptoms that brought you to the hospital, or the part of you they’re going to operate on. We chaplains deal with things that are more transcendant. A person who’s sick still needs to be helped through the holistic model of body, mind and spirit.”
Catholic chaplains who wish to become board-certified can contact The National Association of Catholic Chaplains by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is NACC.org. The phone number is 414.483.4898. This association is located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Jewish chaplains can contact The National Association of Jewish Chaplains by emailing email@example.com. The website is NAJC.org. The telephone number is 973.929.3168. This association is located in Whippany, New Jersey.
Chaplains of other faith traditions can contact The Association of Professional Chaplains, which is an interfaith association, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is ProfessionalChaplains.org. The phone number is 847.240.1014. This association is located in Schaumberg, Illinois.