What does a hospital chaplain do?

A hospital chaplain offers spiritual guidance and pastoral care to patients and their families. As representatives of religious traditions, chaplains in hospitals and medical centers use the insights and principles of psychology, religion, spirituality, and theology.

Hospital chaplains support and encourage people of all religious faiths and backgrounds by providing:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Grief and bereavement counseling
  • Family support counseling
  • Staff counseling
  • Presurgical and postsurgical counseling

People they work with: Individuals, couples, families, and small groups

Where they work: Hospitals, mental health facilities, correctional institutions, children’s hospitals, hospice centers, and nursing homes

Hospital chaplain requirements

Common requirements for hospital chaplain jobs include:

  • A master's degree in divinity, theology, religious studies, or a related field
  • Completion of clinical pastoral education (CPE) units at a medical center accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE)
  • Certification by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, Association of Professional Chaplains, National Association of Jewish Chaplains, or a similar group
  • Ordination, endorsement, or reference from a denomination or faith group

Because hospital chaplains support and encourage people of all religious faiths, they must be familiar with beliefs across many different cultures. They also must customize their approach based on an individual patient's background, age, or medical condition.

Hospital chaplains are available to counsel patients and family members around the clock. Most medical centers require chaplains to be comfortable with flexible schedules that include daytime, evening, night, holiday, and weekend shifts, along with on-call coverage.

Career opportunities for hospital chaplains

Hospital chaplain jobs are available nationwide and have a median annual salary of about $48,000. Competition for positions varies based on the number of qualified candidates, denominations, and geographic regions.

Advancement opportunities include progressing into leadership roles, such as a chaplain coordinator, manager, or director. Chaplains can also grow professionally by teaching and mentoring less experienced staff, getting involved in the local community, and participating in research projects.

Hospital chaplain programs at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic offers the accredited one-year Clinical Pastoral Education Residency and the 11-week Clinical Pastoral Education Internship in Rochester, Minnesota, for individuals who are training to be hospital chaplains.

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