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.