Upstate News

April 30, 2007
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Clergy learn how to deliver spiritual care in hospital setting under new program

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY Upstate Medical University has now broadened its existing graduate educational offerings to include clergy, seminarians and qualified laypersons to provide experience that will lead to a greater understanding of how to deliver spiritual care and support in the clinical care setting and in congregations.

The ability for SUNY Upstate to offer its Clinical Pastoral Education training comes from its recent accreditation by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) in Decatur, Ga. The 10-year accreditation, which runs through 2016, was awarded after a rigorous site visit by the ACPE Accreditation Commission that reviewed the university’s program, curriculum, clinical setting, facilities, and hospital support.

Participation in clinical pastoral education training is required for ordination by most denominations and faith traditions, as part of theological education, and for board certification as a chaplain in all national chaplaincy organizations.

According to the Rev. Terry Culbertson, manager of SUNY Upstate’s Center for Spiritual Care and a certified supervisor in the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, clinical pastoral education programs, like SUNY Upstate’s, meet an important need in the religious community and impact on the larger arena of quality spiritual care offered by clergy to their members.

“Seminaries and other educational programs for clergy are based on teaching theology and religious history, but do not offer many opportunities to learn how to better minister to suffering people through supervised experience in the clinical arena,” she said. “That’s what makes programs like these so vital and necessary.”

Students—known as Chaplain Interns—enrolled in the SUNY Upstate programs must complete 300 hours of direct pastoral ministry with patients and families on University Hospital floors that specialize in cardiology, oncology, neurology, orthopedics, rehabilitation and pediatrics care. Each does a weekly evening rotation in the emergency department and completes 100 hours of clinical classroom supervised instruction.

“There is no experience like ministering to patients and families in our emergency room,” Culbertson said. “The range of situations and spiritual needs one can experience in a Level 1 trauma center are limitless.”

Since Summer 2004, Upstate has been an ACPE Satellite of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital while working towards freestanding accreditation. Feedback from program graduates reflects how alumni experience this training as an eye-opener.

“Many initially wanted to walk into an patient’s room and make the hurt go away,” Culbertson said. “That’s not going to be possible. Not everything is going to be all right simply because a clergy member visits with a patient. It is human to have the urge is to run from pain and suffering, but our role as spiritual care providers is to be a presence and a comfort in difficult times. That’s why we are here.”

Students get the experience of participating in interdisciplinary rounds with members of the healthcare team on clinical units. Other unique experiences include working with the School of Medicine’s Standardized Patient Program, the Emergency Department’s simulated manikin program, learning from skilled clinicians to enhance pastoral skills and visiting areas of the campus such as the Gross Anatomy Lab.

SUNY Upstate’s Clinical Pastoral Education training program is offered in two sessions: a 28-week program that runs from September through February, and an 12-week summer intensive program that runs from May through July. Up to six students can be accepted per session, and tuition, application and screening interview are required.

With its ACPE accreditation, SUNY Upstate is now one of 350 accredited centers across the country and joins Albany Medical Center, Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester and Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo as the only facilities in upstate New York offering clinical pastoral education programs.

SUNY Upstate’s Center for Spiritual Care for provides a range of services and support to SUNY Upstate employees, volunteers, and students and to University Hospital patients and family members.

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