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Pictured: UK Pastoral Care interns. The UK Pastoral Care internship program began in 1967, and to this day, helps present and future chaplains understand how to care for patients.

UK Pastoral Care interns practice providing compassion for all

When Mark Dunn arrives at UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital for his shift as a hospital chaplain, he heads to the Emergency Department to check on the trauma cases from the night before. He may offer support to a family in the midst of the chaos that often accompanies trauma, making sure the right information gets to the right staff member. The sense of calm he brings to the situation frees up the medical staff to focus solely on saving lives.

Once Dunn feels comfortable leaving the ED, he walks to the 10th floor and starts making his way down, floor by floor, unit by unit, repeating the process of being a presence for people in need of a sounding board, helping them to make sense of a devastating diagnosis, or provide a prayer, if requested.

Although quiet and unassuming, Dunn thrives on the connections he makes with people. He has a soothing voice and gentle demeanor, but perhaps his strongest skill is that he is a good listener, all traits he didn’t realize he possessed until he joined UK’s Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) internship program.

ACPE helps develop pastoral growth

ACPE was established in 1967 and is among the founding accredited Clinical Pastoral Education centers. Rev. Joe Alverson is currently the director of UK Pastoral Care and helped grow its educational program.

In 2013, Rev. Dr. Cam Holzer was hired as ACPE supervisor and clinical pastoral educator, and she worked to revive the program so new CPE students could learn and serve within a larger, more seasoned chaplaincy team. Holzer says the internship program is designed to facilitate personal, pastoral and professional growth.

The internship is 400 hours of training: 100 hours of class time and 300 hours of direct service. Each intern is mentored by staff chaplains and is assigned to specific floors or clinical areas of UK HealthCare, serving as the primary chaplain for their areas. Once an intern is equipped to carry an on-call pager, they may be called to a variety of urgent pastoral situations.

“They learn the skill of showing up and making themselves available,” Holzer said. “There is no way to know what it is they are getting called to; they have to listen, care, trust their intuition and grow in more effective communication to learn what that person needs and how to help provide it. It could be a prayer, to mostly listen or the person may need to have someone there with them and talk very little or not at all.”

Teaching chaplains the power of listening

For some students, the clinical internship is a requirement of their Masters of Divinity degree and for others, it is an elective. Seasoned clergy and lay persons also take CPE to deepen their pastoral care capacity. The program is open to persons of all faiths and backgrounds, and ages range from 25 to 75.

“When I interviewed for the internship, I was nervous because I don’t like talking about myself,” Dunn said. “I had no experience and didn’t even understand the chaplain’s role in a hospital. Over the course of the internship, I learned I was a people person and enjoy talking with others. I learned how to listen, to meet people where they are, one on one, in depth, to be the presence they need at that moment in their life”

After completing the internship in 2014, Dunn served for a while as a PRN (relief staff) chaplain at UK HealthCare. He then completed a one-year chaplain residency at Norton Hospital in Louisville, and soon afterward Dunn made his way back to UK HealthCare, hired full-time in 2016.

Students who complete CPE internships usually go on to be PRN chaplains, full-time hospital chaplains or pastor churches. Sometimes they work in nursing homes and social care settings. Students will have developed a capacity to more deeply hear and help others in different settings for the rest of their lives.

“Interns learn more about the art of spiritual assessment, the ability to open their heart and listen, paying close attention to learn what is uniquely going on with the person before them, whether it be the patient, a family member, or UK staff. They learn from their own emotions and experiences how to honor and respect others in their feelings,” Holzer said.

“The hope would be that they develop their own way of being more fully in the world, and more attentive, compassionate and effective in their ministry.”


Next steps:

  • UK Pastoral Care provides 24/7 support to patients, families and staff at UK HealthCare who are dealing with spiritual and emotional challenges.
  • Read the story of one UK chaplain who was in a severe bicycling accident but used her experience to enhance her role as a chaplain when she returned to work.

UK chaplain returns to work with renewed spirit following cycling accident

Exactly five months ago today, Laura Babbage had a devastating accident while biking through the French Alps with her 22-year-old son Brian.

Babbage, a chaplain at UK HealthCare, suffered a traumatic brain injury during the accident, which required months of treatment and rehabilitation. With the help of her care team at UK HealthCare and the prayers of friends and family, Babbage has returned to her work more than six months ahead of doctors’ estimates.

Babbage’s accident happened in France, she was airlifted back to Lexington and was treated at UK HealthCare. She completed her inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at Cardinal Hill Hospital.

Babbage knows that many of her UK HealthCare family know her story, because she has heard of the many staff who prayed outside the door of her ICU bed and has delighted at the numerous people who’ve stopped her in the halls with a “welcome back!” smile or a hug.

“I’m overwhelmed by how much people rooted for me,” Babbage said. “There was an ocean of prayer entire churches I’d never heard of were praying for me. And I believe prayer, in all its forms, does matter.”

Read Babbage’s open letter of thanks to the UK doctors, nurses and staff who cared for her.

Using her experience for others

Since her return to chaplaincy about two weeks ago, Babbage has gone about her work with the grace and empathy that all who know her recognize: She is a patient and willing listener, she is trained to develop a relationship of trust without judgment and to add dimension to the skilled care provided by physicians and staff.

While Babbage acknowledges that, at least in the beginning, this ordeal was easiest on her – “I don’t remember a thing, but my family was sorely tested,” she said – she knows that this experience will help her do her job better.

“I am always aware of and sensitive to the desire for a visit from a chaplain as well as for prayer,” she said. “Chaplains are a listening presence for patients and families to help them begin to make sense of their situation. We are available for prayer if requested. Often we simply meet someone in the midst of their pain and suffering, aware of this special privilege.

“But now I have a deeper appreciation for families and their experience with their ill or injured family member since I’ve returned to work,” she explained. “Chaplains listen far more than we talk, allowing time and space for families to grasp the gravity of the moment. I have a heightened tenderness for family members now that I recognize what my own family experienced during my hospital stay. Like other chaplains, I will continue to learn.”

Returning to the patient’s bedside

Babbage and Joe Alverson, UK HealthCare’s director of pastoral care, were very careful to make sure she was prepared to meet and address patient and family needs.

“We wondered what would happen if I was needed to minister to a patient or family who’d experienced a trauma similar to mine,” Babbage said. “But we’ve been trained to eject ourselves from any situation if necessary – sometimes you’re not the right person for that patient, and sometimes they don’t want you there at all.  I felt I’d still be able to do that.”

Alverson remembers the shock and disbelief he felt when he learned that “one of our own” was in serious trouble.

“My first thought was for her – and my second thought immediately after that was for her family,” he said.  “As chaplains we see the sickest of the sick, and her condition was a huge worry for us.”

The pace of Babbage’s recovery was “beyond belief,” Alverson said.

“The first time I saw her was after she’d completed inpatient rehab at Cardinal Hill in September, and the first words out of her mouth were ‘When can I come back?'” he said. “I was excited for her, for me and for the hospital as well.”

Alverson knows that Babbage will make good use of her experience as she continues to care for others.

“We work in the midst of trauma and chaos every day, but to actually live that makes it more real,” he said. “I really look forward to seeing how her experience changes the trajectory of her work, but regardless of the exact path, I know it will be a good one.”

“We’re just thrilled to have her back.”

Media inquiries: Laura Dawahare, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, laura.dawahare.uky.edu


Next steps:

  • Learn more about Pastoral Care at UK HealthCare, where our chaplains are available to help patients, families and staff deal with spiritual and emotional challenges associated with medical events and crises.
  • The world-renowned doctors at UK Neurosurgery provides diagnosis and management of a wide range of conditions involving the brain, spine and nervous system. Learn more about the care we provide.