By Janet Stark
Chaplains have traditionally excelled at providing spiritual/faith care, but we need to learn to become better health professionals. A chaplain is part of the medical team and needs to understand medical policies and practices. Any related education that connects with quality of life and a person’s well-being is something that we should seek out — for example, mental health, staff burnout and compassion fatigue; suicide prevention; elder abuse; and post-traumatic distress syndrome.
The goal is to have hospital administrators, directors and managers automatically think of calling on the spiritual care department for assistance in a whole new basket of competencies. We don’t want them waiting for a specifically religious need before realizing that spiritual care can be of immense help!!
Based on my experience providing this type of education at the provincial and national levels in Canada, I believe chaplains need to be better aware of community health programs and services, since they are often the ones who can inform patients and families. They should understand the admissions, transfers and discharge procedures and be able to help families navigate these paths.
Chaplains also need to provide education to the rest of the health team in order to be seen as an appropriate resource for holistic health and wellness and quality of life. We need to learn the language of healthcare — evidence-based research; best practices; budget process — and understand the acronyms and lingo that are used by the rest of the health team.
Consider the impact parish nursing can have on a community. It is an arm of a congregation’s ministry that concentrates on the specific needs that relate to the mental, physical, emotional,and spiritual health of its members. Chaplaincy should seek opportunities and overlaps, linking with and promoting parish nursing.
A parish nurse is a registered nurse who, in response to God’s call, applies nursing knowledge and healing gifts within a faith community. In these times of stretched health resources, a parish nurse can help provide a much-needed link between an individual and the formal health system.
Primary roles include health advocacy (ensuring that parishioners’ health needs are being met, navigating the complex health system, acting as liaison between health service and individuals); health education (presenting educational programs and information dealing with health and wellness issues); health counseling (meeting with parishioners to discuss and listen to concerns of a mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual nature); resource referral (linking to local health agencies and other service providers); and volunteer coordination (training and supervising volunteers to assist with the ministry in the congregation). Chaplains can certainly see ways in which their gifts might complement those of an existing parish nurse program.
Janet Stark is a certified multifaith chaplain and spiritual care manager at Brockville General Hospital in Brockville, Ontario.