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Hospital Chaplain: Job Description and Education Requirements

Oct 29, 2019

Hospital chaplains provide spiritual support for patients and their loved ones for a variety of situations. Discover the education, training, and certification requirements for hospital chaplains and an overview of the job responsibilities, salary, and outlook.

What Is a Hospital Chaplain?

A hospital chaplain, sometimes referred to as a hospital priest or medical chaplain, is a person who provides pastoral care and services in hospitals. They primarily work with hospital patients and their loved ones but they may offer their services to staff members as well, when appropriate. The role of a hospital chaplain is generally the same no matter the religion they practice.

Education Requirements Master's degree in theology, religion, or divinity
Training Requirements Clinical Pastoral Education, internship or residency
Certification Requirements Must be ordained by a religious organization and certified through the BCCI or NACC
Average Annual Salary (2018)* $53,290
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 6% (for all clergy)

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements for Hospital Chaplain Jobs

To be a hospital chaplain, one must obtain a minimum of a master's degree in theology, pastoral counseling, or divinity from an accredited institution. It may help to major in these fields for an undergraduate degree, but it is usually not required for entry into a master's program. Some schools recommend undergraduate degrees in psychology, humanities or social sciences. Applicants to a master's program usually must provide letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and an essay/statement about their faith or calling to ministry.

Different master's programs may require a specific religious denomination. For example, some schools require a Master of Divinity applicant to be a practicing Catholic, while other programs simply require an applicant to practice the Christian faith, regardless of denomination. There are other colleges with different religious affiliations, such as Judaism or Islam. It may help to take courses about other religions to better serve religiously diverse populations.

Clinical Pastoral Education

While a master's degree may be enough for some hospitals, it is highly recommended (and sometimes required) to get a clinical pastoral education (CPE) through an accredited program. CPE programs train theology students and ministers of all religions to work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities with people of diverse religious backgrounds.

Students will learn listening, empathy, ministering, and crisis intervention skills through study and supervised training with a certified chaplain in a hospital. There are two levels to CPE, with 3-4 units per level. Level I covers basic principles and Level II covers advanced concepts. CPE is either offered in units, which can last 10-12 weeks per unit, or year-long programs. Level I is usually obtained through an internship, and Level II is usually obtained through a residency. However, it differs between each facility. Many programs require applicants to be ordained.

Ordination and Chaplain Certification

Before becoming a professional hospital chaplain, an individual must become ordained by their religious group and receive certification. Ordination requirements differ by faith and there is no one way to become ordained. However, individuals seeking to be ordained can take ministry classes that are recognized by their denomination. To become a certified chaplain, an individual must apply through the Association of Professional Chaplains' Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc. or the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. Chaplain certification requires ordination and completion of a CPE program.

Hospital Chaplain Job Description

What Does a Chaplain Do?

The duties of a hospital chaplain range from giving spiritual support to patients and loved ones to providing spiritual peace for a patient who is nearing the end of his or her life. They may perform prayer or confession, read scripture from religious books such as the Bible, Torah, or Quran, or lend an ear for people who need advice or comfort for any spiritual, mental, or emotional difficulties.

Chaplain duties also include filling out records of their activities with patients, teaching other staff members who wish to incorporate spiritual methods, and building relationships with patients and staff alike. In times of crisis or trauma, chaplains may provide grief counseling. If a patient has religious reasons for organ donation or life support withdrawal, the chaplain often oversees it. Patience, empathy, communication, and listening skills are very common requirements to perform chaplain responsibilities.

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