Hospital Chaplain: Job Description and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a hospital chaplain. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

A hospital chaplain is a clergy member ordained to assist residents in their religious and spiritual pursuits. Chaplains are usually required to have a degree in counseling, theology, or another major pertinent to their line of work.

Essential Information

Chaplains offer ministry and spiritual guidance to patients, family members and caregivers within the hospital setting. Many chaplains work in an interfaith environment using a non-denominational style of counseling. They may perform specific religious duties related to the faith they were ordained in, for example, administration of last rites.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Background in counseling, psychology or theology
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all clergy
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $48,150 for all clergy

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Chaplains of many faiths work with a diverse population and are tasked with counseling patients undergoing surgical procedures, facing end of life issues or involved in traumatic accidents. They also offer comfort and support to patients' families. They may be called on by hospital staff to calm angry or emotionally distraught friends and family members of patients. Chaplains may conduct religious services in the hospital chapel, including officiating at memorial services and weddings. In some cases, a hospital chaplain will provide spiritual support to fellow staff members and care providers.

Hospitals typically seek chaplaincy candidates with a demonstrated ability to work well within a team environment. The capacity to communicate respectfully across cultures and with persons of different faiths is a valued asset. Due to the sensitive nature of the work, chaplains are held to a high standard of ethical behavior, professionalism and confidentiality.

The ability to work effectively in stressful situations while maintaining a calm demeanor is important. Hospital chaplains should also be able to work independently and be flexible when faced with multiple priorities. Candidates who demonstrate strong interpersonal skills and who are friendly, compassionate and approachable may find the best job prospects. Prior experience in the armed forces as a chaplain or religious program specialist or experience in a religious ministry is also taken into consideration by employers.

Educational Requirements

There are diverse educational paths to becoming a hospital chaplain. Employers may consider those with an educational background in counseling, psychology or theology as prime candidates. At a minimum, most hospitals require that chaplains possess a bachelor's degree in counseling, theology or a related field. Many larger hospitals may ask that chaplains hold a Master of Divinity, be endorsed by a recognized religious institution or demonstrate that they have received additional training or credentialing through a professional organization such as the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published an average salary of $50,430 for clergy members working in hospitals, while those working in nursing care facilities made approximately $46,380. According to the BLS in 2014, employment for clergy members in general was expected to expand by 6% through 2024.

Hospital chaplains administer end-of-life sacraments to patients and help them fulfill their spiritual and theological needs. They should have good communication skills and prior ministerial experience. A religion or counseling related degree is usually essential to employability.

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