Copyright © 2012 StarNewsOnline.com
Reprinted with permission
While doctors and nurses provide for the physical needs of patients at New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Cape Fear Hospital, it's up to the chaplains to provide spiritual care.
Friday (Aug. 24) the hospital celebrated the graduation of its largest class of chaplain residents in the 20 years the program has been in existence. This year's class of 10 doubled the typical class of five, said Marty Aden, director of spiritual care for the hospital.
Chaplain residents usually are ministers or pastors who want to be chaplains, Aden said.
"Most have some interest in the theological field or pastoral care field," she said.
The yearlong program is accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. Residents earn the required credits to apply for certification by the Association of Professional Chaplains, Aden said.
Instead of classroom work, residents participate in what is called process education, she said.
"Students go out and do ministry and come back and reflect on it," Adens said, "and their reflections become the curriculum."
For example, a resident might visit a patient and then try to reconstruct and analyze their conversation to help understand how the visit went.
"After I've seen 10 cancer patients every day for a month. I start wondering where is God in all that? Why do we have cancer? What is that situation? So we help them as educators. We help them to reflect on that," Aden said.
During their residency, chaplains spend time in all departments at New Hanover Regional and Cape Fear. While learning, they also are serving the spiritual needs of patients and the staff, Aden said, since the hospital doesn't have full-time chaplains. The hospital pays them a stipend to be there, she said.
Aden said the chaplain residents had visited more than 51,000 people during the year.
Most residents relocate to Wilmington – some from as far away as Oregon or Maine.
Chaplain resident Sharon Von Blohn, 59, was one of the oldest residents, with most being in their late 20s or early 30s.
Von Blohn said she and her dog moved from Milton, Pa., to join the program. She had been a pastor at a United Church of Christ and Evangelical Lutheran cooperative ministry in Lewisburg, Pa., for six years.
She had previously worked as a part-time contract chaplain with the North Central Treatment Unit for adolescent girls in Pennsylvania.
Von Blohn said residents' days are busy, with 24-hour on-duty days being very intense.
"But if you want to learn anything, you can learn it here at New Hanover," she said.
Von Blohn said she feels called to be a chaplain to veterans, possibly through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I've been feeling this for a long time," she said. "My father was in the military. My nephews are both actively on duty now in the Air Force."
But for now she's searching websites and networking while looking for a way to pay her bills.
Chaplain resident Jonathan Crooms, 30, was a pioneer this year, serving as the first chaplain in the Emergency Transport Services department.
Crooms was a political science major at Davidson College. He earned his master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating the same year he started his residency. He plans to do second-year residency at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro.
The Emergency Transport Services department at the hospital includes EMS, VitaLink, AirLink and Patient Care Transport services, he said.
Workers in those services see difficult things, Crooms said.
"They go out on scenes where people may be dead already, they may be in a situation where they're trying to revive somebody. It's a tough job," he said.
"The point of having a chaplain there was to be an extra layer of support so that when staff do have that really tough call they have somebody that they can talk to that knows what they're going through."
He said he worked with all the groups to try to get to know what their needs are.
"A lot of my work really has been to build relationship with them and be a witness to what they go through on a daily basis – the challenges and the stresses of trying to provide the best pre-hospital medical care that they can to people in need."
In a testament to the relationships he built, the audience at Friday's graduation ceremony included several of his colleagues from Emergency Transport Services.
"The thing about being in the chaplaincy ministry is you never know how you're making a difference," Crooms said. "You're not around when the really big things happen, the great things happen."
Jim Ware: 343-2387
On Twitter: @jimware