Penn’s clinical pastoral education (CPE) program is one of about 500 programs in the country that train students to work in the ministry. There are fulltime (residents and interns) and part-time (externs) students during the summer and the academic year, and students are generally assigned to HUP or Pennsylvania Hospital. Denise Statham, the program’s administrative secretary and volunteer coordinator, also trains and orients volunteer pastoral visitors who provide services at both HUP and the Penn Center for Rehabilitation and Care at 36th and Chestnut streets. In total, about 40 volunteers help fulfill the mission of the department.

“Most of our students are adding practical experience in ministry to their academic preparation in seminary education,” explains Ciampa. “That was how the CPE movement originated in the 1920s. In fact, it was created under the influence of the medical model of hospital internship and residency.”

Many current students are not theologically educated in the traditional sense, but have “a gift for the chaplaincy and may be very well-grounded in religious traditions,” says Ciampa. “We try to assess their non-accredited educational experience and their ‘life-learning’ equivalencies in responding to their interest.”

Instruction is divided between the classroom and patient settings—“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,” says Ciampa. Students quickly learn that they must be able to “reach across many religions,” he adds. “They are assigned to specific patient units and must meet any needs that arise.”

Students shadow an experienced chaplain for a full 16-hour shift before doing overnight duties on their own, and part-time students have longer orientation periods. “We purposely select students who are able to meet patients in the role of a nonsectarian spiritual support,” says Ciampa. Students also present reports of their encounters in seminars, where they are subject to careful review.

It is in these seminars that students learn the skills associated with pastoral conversation, including active listening, or reverent acknowledgment, which is probably the most conspicuous attribute of a chaplain: the ability to be truly present in every encounter, often without saying a word. CPE students also learn a reporting technique known as verbatim, in which they describe their conversations with patients from memory, in the form of a play. They present these dialogues to their classmates for feedback and are encouraged to include not only the patient dynamic, but also their own reflections—including why they might have been drawn to minister to a particular patient. “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,” says Ciampa. “Where is it a strength and resource? Where is it a barrier?”

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FEATURE: The Spirit of Caring by Kathryn Levy Feldman
Photography by Chris Crisman C'03
©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette

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Pastoral Care Department Director Ralph Ciampa: “It is the combination of loss and isolation that overwhelms people, and we try not to let that happen.”



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  ©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 8/26/11