Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

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Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more. Subscribe below to get email notices so you won't miss any great content.

Chaplaincy Week: The Chaplain as Healer

October 19, 2018

Chaplaincy Week

This is Chaplaincy Week. This is a week to celebrate the role our Chaplains play in caring for us and our patients. Their role is growing as we deal with challenges that are not so easily resolved with surgery or medications alone.

For the patient to fully heal beyond their diagnosis, we must tend to their sense of self that places them in a larger picture of what life means to them and what they mean to their families. The Chaplains counsel patients and families and have already taken this on as their mission. Their caring is about wholeness rather than illness, about connectedness rather than infection control, and about meaningful exchanges rather than dosage.

How did Hospitals begin?

And in the beginning, there were plagues, unexplained illnesses, death without knowing, and suffering without understanding. The mythological underpinnings of early medical practices believed that if the body was sick, the spirit was sick. Not until Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity and the scientific method revealed an objective truth did medicine believe there were insights and clear understanding as to how the body works.  Yet, even today, we do not fully understand and appreciate the meaning of suffering and how it informs pain for the patient and those around them.

Today, science is, by its very nature and practice, divorced from religion and belief.  Yet, we know that patients and families are not fully served by treatments that only consider the biology and physiology of the diagnosis.

Through studies that have looked at the role of meaning and the depth of suffering, we know that there is an invisible link between the mind and the body, between thoughts, feelings, and between beliefs and outcomes. There is an identifiable need for the humanity of the patient to be acknowledged and served as much as the diagnosis that brings them to their physician or hospital.

Chaplains as Advocates

Chaplain’s not only address these very human needs but also advocate for patients and families that respect their values and celebrate their wholeness. Compassion and empathy soothe the pain of the experience and build resilience in ways that medicine on its own cannot.

In the middle of the 19th century, Florence Nightingale’s focus was the patient, in the largest sense of the role.  She wrote about anxiety, about the need to protect patients from “anticipation, expectation, and surprise.”  She also made it the role of the nurse to be the advocate in ways that today may sometimes be lost. She felt that continual and unconditional compassion and patience for the suffering patient was mandatory and should be practiced without exception.  

Today, in 2018, Chaplains have incorporated the role of advocacy as described by Nightingale.  She was not a religious woman, but respected the role of Spiritual health in healing. The vision of Nightingale and the commitment of Chaplains merge at the bedside.  

Defining Spiritual Care

At this time, the role of spiritual care is well described by the Institute of Palliative Care as “helping to weave a tapestry of meaning out of the frayed strands of loss, illness, and change while holding hearts steady in an environment beset with complex treatment choices, limited time, and increasing regulatory and financial pressures.”

Let us celebrate the Chaplains’ role of Spiritual Advocates in our organizations as they help us all deal with the most challenging moments between life and death. 

If you would like to learn more about how the C.A.R.E. Channel and Chaplains have changed the patient experience watch the video below:


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