By Ann Christensen
My career pathway parallels my migration from Canada to the US/Mexico border. I was educated in Canada, which prepared me for a career in neurobiology research. After completing three years of post-doctoral studies at Virginia Tech and at the University of Arizona, I taught biology at Pima Community College. Later, I chaired the department and served as dean of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics division.
Early in my education career, I led a program to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities in the behavioral and biomedical sciences. I was unable to recruit a biomedical ethics instructor for our new clinical laboratory programs, so I studied up on the subject and taught the course myself. This opened a new field of interest for me, and I became a member of the University of Arizona’s Institutional Review Board which oversees the protection of human subjects in research. I continue to serve this group in the dual role of scientist and chaplain.
During my tenure as dean of student development and prefect of discipline, I learned of my compassion for troubled students, particularly those struggling with addictions. During a tumultuous time at my college, I began courses online at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago. I am now retired from the faculty but continue to teach cell and molecular biology as an adjunct.
My first two CPE internships were at a large academic research hospital, but for my last two units, I requested a smaller hospital with acute-care behavioral health units that serves the largely Hispanic population of South Tucson. These experiences prepared me to be a part-time chaplain for the Carondelet Hospital Network.
Today, I serve at two large hospitals in Tucson and a small community hospital in Nogales and provide a loving presence and a listening heart to those experiencing pain, fear, and life transitions. I see the divine in all people and strive to help others recognize this quality in themselves and in each other, and to tap into this source of strength and grace as they are presented with challenges. As an immigrant who speaks Spanish, I have a special zeal for assisting people who have migrated, many of whom are brought injured or ill to the hospital by Border Patrol agents. I also bring my enthusiasm for dance and mental wellness to the behavioral health unit, where I lead a Praise Dance group.
Observation of the beauty of the natural world and discovery fill many scientists with a sense of wonder, joy, and excitement. In my practice as a chaplain, I know that training in science instilled in me a sense of wonderment that I bring to every encounter. I am awed by the openness with which patients, their loved ones, and hospital staff share their stories. I am amazed by the power of love and how it triumphs over fear and death.
As a scientist, I also bring my methodical, problem-solving abilities to the interdisciplinary healthcare team. As an educator, I promote human flourishing of individuals, family systems, work groups, and communities.
However, my background can be an impediment to effective chaplaincy. I constantly remind myself not to answer patient’s medical questions, to speak less, and to humbly listen more. And when I do, all that remains is tenderness and love … and that is all that is required.
Ann Christensen, BCC, is a chaplain at the Carondelet Health Network in Tucson, AZ.