Amidst all the pink breast cancer awareness products and events, October is also Clergy and Chaplain Appreciation Month. Havenít heard of it? Doesnít surprise me. Actually, neither had I until last year.
I must admit, I was quite naÔve to the chaplain role as a foundational member of the healthcare team. When I began my oncology nursing career eight years ago, I worked nights, and there was rarely a chaplain in-house at our community hospital. We paged the on-call chaplain for emergencies only -- last rites and end-of-life spiritual comfort needs. If a patient or family did not request a chaplain but I still noticed some spiritual distress and questioning, families would get really concerned seeing the chaplain walk into the room, anticipating bad news.
As I transitioned to day shift, unfortunately my experiences with daytime chaplains remained the same. I didnít learn any differently until I began managing a multidisciplinary team that also included a chaplain. I had the opportunity for re-education, and boy, did I need it.
The chaplain on my team explained appropriate referrals to her like this: If a patient is having a lot of emotional issues, chances are there is an underlying spiritual concern, so refer the patient to a chaplain. That one sentence changed the way I work with chaplains and changed care for my patients.
Looking back at my own experiences and the similar experiences of other nurses, I don't think nurses are educated enough alongside chaplains early on in order to solidify the healthcare team relationship between the two disciplines.
Over time, I have learned to work more closely with chaplains as an integral member of the healthcare team. I cannot imagine care without these valued professionals. They have more education and experience than most other healthcare professionals realize, and they often meet patients right where they are in their spiritual journeys to complement the physical and emotional care other disciplines provide. It might be easy to overlook the chaplains around you. Donít!
What are you doing to appreciate the chaplains within your healthcare organization this month?