Chaplains and the Role of Spiritual Care in Healthcare
By Janet Frank
May 1, 2017
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
Although healing happens daily in a hospital, pain, suffering, and sometimes death occur, too. This often leads people to ask challenging questions like, "Why is this happening?" Sometimes patients need some emotional and spiritual support to accompany their healthcare. That's where chaplains play an important role.
A hospital chaplain is a professionally trained clergy member who supports patients and staff with spiritual and religious concerns. He or she is clinically trained to help navigate the healthcare experience. Chaplains have similar skill sets to social workers, but are specially trained to support belief systems across faiths and cultures. In order to better meet the needs of patients, chaplains receive more than 1,600 hours of training focused specifically in healthcare settings.
Chaplains act not only as spiritual counselors, but as advocates for patients and staff. Dedicated chaplains influence better decisions about care, improve clinical outcomes, and enhance staff morale. The trust they establish with patients transfers to other members of the care team, leading to better care and better outcomes.
Although chaplains are a helpful component to the care team, only 60 percent of hospitals in the United States have a chaplain. The remaining 40 percent of hospitals rely on community and volunteer support, which can sometimes be insufficient in a healthcare setting. Intermountain Healthcare understands the importance and need for chaplains, and focuses on providing board-certified chaplains in its hospitals.
Because chaplains are unbiased and part of the care team, they are valuable in providing a safe harbor and bridging difficult conversations.
Gene Slade, a chaplain at Utah Valley Hospital, says, “Our most fundamental human condition is when we come face-to-face with our own mortality. As chaplains, we walk into some dark places and help bring in light.”