Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Re-Thinking Chaplaincy Education Symposium Celebrates 50 Years of CPE at Rush

“Re-Thinking Chaplaincy Education” was the title September 27th Symposium convened to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CPE program at Rush University Medical Center. The Symposium featured presentations by Mark Newitt a specialist palliative care chaplain at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and St Luke’s, Sheffield’s Hospice in the UK and Jana Troutman-Miller, Chair of the BCCI Commission on Certification among others.

The Symposium began with a summary of the study, “Assessing and Reimaging Chaplaincy Education: The Case of Healthcare,” supported by a Luce-Foundation grant to Transforming Chaplaincy and ACPE. Project personnel Kim Palmer and Casey Clevenger summarized the findings of interviews with 20 theological educators and 19 CPE educators about their views of chaplaincy education. Watch the Transforming Chaplaincy newsletter for announcement of the publications of these findings.

The Symposium continued with a presentation by Mark Newitt. Mark described how the UK model relies mostly on the education chaplains receive at theological college supplemented by additional courses they can take once employed as chaplains. Mark also shared his view, based on his research about bereaved parents’ experiences with chaplains, of the importance of the formation of chaplains’ character. “Chaplaincy training,” he said, “is not merely about the acquisition of skills, though it does involve that. It also includes centrally the question of personal and spiritual formation, as well as the induction of chaplains into a theological or philosophical tradition and a body of knowledge, all of these need to be attended to in the thinking about training provision and continued professional development.”

In her presentation, Jana Troutman-Miller spoke about the relationship between CPE outcomes and chaplaincy competencies. To the question of whether they should be linked such that CPE prepares students to demonstrate their abilities in the 31 competencies, Troutman-Miller offered a resounding “Yes.” She also utilized data from 2016-2019 to describe areas of greatest struggle for chaplains who unsuccessfully seek certification and pointed to the importance of forming students with an eye toward certification competencies.

Bill Schmidt, PhD, professor in Loyola University’s Institute of Professional Studies, spoke about the connection between theological education and CPE. Schmidt reflected on some of the tensions existing between academic formation and the experiential setting of CPE, notably students often being formed in particular traditions at seminary while needing to work in interfaith settings and the contrast between working in a medical setting that prioritizes objective, evidence-based methodologies and being formed in a setting that is experiential, relational, and narrative. Schmidt concluded by offering several suggestions for further developing academic formation for chaplains—for example, helping students in the classroom consider and engage with existential issues and dilemmas encountered in the clinical settings.

Mark Bradley, CPE educator and manager for spiritual care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, concluded the Symposium by describing some of the practices used there to provide CPE residents with an education that prepares them to seek board certification. Among other things, the CPE program at Northwestern utilizes a mentor program that pairs residents with staff chaplains, the use of chaplain simulation labs and shadowing, and fourth-unit residents writing about their competencies as part of the CPE curriculum. He also advocated for greater clarity in differentiating competencies and outcomes to reduce confusion among CPE students and chaplains.

The Symposium provided stakeholders with a rich opportunity to continue the conversation about how to improve education for healthcare chaplaincy.

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