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Around the Clock Support

By Sally Sapega, MA, HUPdate Editor
HUPdate 13, no. 21 (October 18, 2002): cover story
Published by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Reprinted with permission

In the last 10 years, students in the UPHS Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program have provided over 170,000 hours ministering to the spiritual needs of patients. It is one of about 500 such accredited programs in this country that help a person work in ministry. But not all students who enter the program are on their way to becoming ordained clergy.

"Most of our students are adding practical experience in ministry to their academic preparation in seminary education. That was how the CPE movement originated in the 1920s," explained Ralph C. Ciampa, STM, director of Pastoral Care at HUP and CPE Supervisor. "In fact, it was created under the influence of the medical model of hospital internship and residency, but today a wider range of students also benefit from our programs."

Some people, he said, turn out to have many gifts for chaplaincy but want to do that without going through the traditional ordination track. "A large pool of religious people are not theologically educated in the formal traditional sense but are very well-grounded in religious traditions and want to engage in some type of pastoral ministries."

"We try to assess their non-accredited educational experiences and their 'life-learning' equivalencies in responding to their interest."

An Interfaith Movement

CPE was originally created as a summer program for seminary students, but it is very much an interfaith movement today. Students in HUP's program must "reach across many religions. They are assigned to specific patient units and must meet any needs that arise."

The program runs in terms of 400-hour units ("That's what originally fit comfortably into a summer."). For every 400 hours, 300 are spent in patient care activity, and 100 are educational events. Full-time students accumulate three units of training during the 9-month program while the summer students (who are usually seminary students) pack one 400-hour unit into the 11-week program. The program is "basically a mix of being out there and doing ministry, and coming back and meeting in small groups with a supervisor to reflect on their patient experiences."

In the program, students learn the basic skill of pastoral conversation and other interactions to bring comfort and support. "We encourage them to reflect on their own life story and pay attention to their own reactions when ministering, to understand how their experiences feed into the work they're doing. Where is it a strength and resource? Where is it a barrier?"

As part of their clinical activity, students must take overnight call. "It's quite challenging, but it's amazing how quickly they gear up and take on that responsibility."

According to Ciampa, CPE helps prepare people for parish ministry, chaplaincy, lay ministry, teaching, and counseling. It also offers Supervisory CPE training, for those who wish to become educators in the program. "In recent years, we have had four accredited CPE supervisors certified through this program, all now directing programs in eastern Pennsylvania," Ciampa said. A recent $210,000 grant through the E. Rhoads and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation will provide scholarship support for students in the ACPE Supervisory and Certification program over the next three years.

Applicant Selection

Applicants undergo a thorough application process, which includes a full written account of their life history, their spiritual development, and an incident in which they were called upon to help and how they helped. Ciampa said that while they can form many impressions from written material, it is often the personal interview that convinces him to accept someone whose application was somewhat questionable. "Some people who look pretty shaky in written material turn out to be very articulate and gifted when you talk with them," he explained. "One woman had a strong history doing ministry in her local church and felt a calling but didn't have a college or seminary degree. She was in the program part-time at first, then full-time, and eventually completed a master's degree in Human Services. She is now working as a full-time chaplain. The people she works with truly appreciate her abilities."

Helping people in crisis requires an ability to focus on another person's situation with both concern and sensitivity. "Some people have had a powerful religious experience of their own and want other people to look at life through their eyes and their religious experience. They're not going to be supportive in a crisis situation," Ciampa said. "People have to be able to recognize--and support--spirituality in another person even if it comes in a different package."

"Prospective chaplains who have gone through a crisis in their own lives--and healed--may have special insights into what others are going through. Some people have had a lot of hardship and have processed and grown through it. When ministering, they can draw on that rather than being overwhelmed."

The UPHS program is slightly larger than most, Ciampa said. Students' clinical placements--about 30 full-time and part-time students each year--are at HUP and at Pennsylvania Hospital. The program recently received a 10-year accreditation--and kudos--from the regional site review team of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. The team reviewed a detailed 480-page study put together by Ciampa and the CPE Advisory Committee about the program and noted that 'We commend the UPHS programs and find them to be outstanding, and recommend that the UPHS CPE be written up for a national audience so that these creative programs will be better known in the Association for CPE.'

"HUP and the program have a prefect relationship," Ciampa concluded. "The institution gets a tremendous amount of dedicated pastoral care, and students get a focused education that they value."

[Note: The publication of this article coincided with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's celebration of National Pastoral Care Week.]