The Chaplain Who Did Not Show Up

Chaplain Tom started work at Hampton General Hospital. He was excited. He had trained, it seemed like, his whole life for this day. From College, to Seminary, to CPE, he has dreamed of this. HGH was a small hospital, and he was the only chaplain, but he was excited nonetheless.

He visited as many patients as he could fit in… taking detailed notes… he did not want to appear to be not doing his job on the first day. He continued the pace throughout the week. In the Integrated Care Team (ICT) meeting, he sought to give appropriate inputs on patients who he had visited and evaluated. It was a good week.

Tuesday of the next week, he was asked to see the Hospital Director. Chaplain Tom was excited but a bit nervous. He went into director’s office and sat down when invited.

“You don’t have to come in tomorrow,” stated the Director, putting aside all pleasantries.

“But… umm… what do you mean by that, sir?” queried Chaplain Tom.

“Well, we don’t really need you.” Tom was shocked to hear this. Nothing gave him a prior inkling that the Director did not value chaplains.

“Why sir. Did I do something wrong?” The Director responded.

“Well, I have been looking at your comments in the patient records, listened to you at the ICT, and got some feedback from the nursing staff. You give patients good medical advice. You give them counsel as far as some of their social concerns. You marked down your thoughts regarding psychological assessment.”

“Well yes, but…” started Tom, but the Director cut him off. “Do you know why you were hired? You were hired to be a chaplain. You were hired because we need someone to assess their emotional and spiritual concerns. Their feelings about death, issues of belief and faith. We need to know what sort of support system they have internally and externally based on their beliefs and their community. I need you to assess what is going on inside them using skills that the rest of our hospital staff have not been adequately trained to identify.. I don’t really need you to do a psychological assessment. I have psychiatrists who are better at that than you. It is great that you are counseling patients regarding social concerns. That helps… but I have social workers who are good at that, better than you. It is fine if you want to put down medical notes that you think the nurses or doctors might find relevant— but again, they are better at that than you.”

The director continued. “I don’t mind if you want to do other people’s jobs, as long as you don’t get in the way. But you are doing everyone else’s job except your own. Take the rest of the week off. If you are ready to start doing YOUR job, I will see you next Monday. Otherwise, I really don’t need you”

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