Cleveland Clinic Akron General academic program trains spiritual caregivers to work in hospitals, other health-care institutions

December 14, 2018 GMT

Cleveland Clinic Akron General academic program trains spiritual caregivers to work in hospitals, other health-care institutions

AKRON, Ohio - Cleveland Clinic Akron General is training prospective chaplains in the use of “spiritual-care skills” to enhance the healing of patients in hospitals and other health-care settings.

The hospital’s Clinical Pastoral Education program is offered through the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, which is accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. Students learn to counsel patients’ families, including children, as well as caregivers and clinical staff.

The course has three areas of concentration - education, personality theory and theology, said Rabbi Jim Egolf, one of the program’s instructors and a staff educator at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Spiritual Care.

Classwork is tailored to the interests of the participants, Egolf said. A few years ago, students in the program were interested in learning to counsel patients and families affected by the opiate epidemic.

The program admits applicants with some theological background. But to gain certification as a chaplain, students are required to hold a master’s degree in divinity and complete four units of gthe program. Each unit involves 100 hours of class time and 300 hours of clinical time.

Cleveland Clinic Akron General allows students to take the units part-time while serving their existing congregations. The program offered at the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus is 40-hours per week and offered through a paid residency only.

In Akron, 12 students attended the program this year, with the fall unit ending this month.

Egolf said he left his own congregation after taking the first unit in a clinical pastoral program in Pennsylvania in 2012. He became certified as a chaplain this year.

“It can absolutely change a life,” he said.

Mark Ward, who has been pastor at Akron’s Zion Temple Baptist Church for 25 years, will begin the third unit of the program in January. In addition to a master’s degree in divinity, Ward holds a master’s in Christian ministry and counseling and a doctorate in ministry and strategic leadership.

He described the program as intense.

“It’s a lot of work. You have to go to class,” he said. “I’m learning to relearn.”

One of the toughest things, he said, is to leave his Christian beliefs at the door when approaching a patient’s bedside.

“You can’t go in there evangelizing. You can’t take your bias into that room,” he said. “Some may be believers and some may be nonbelievers.”

Akron General Cleveland Clinic has hired Ward to serve part-time as an associate chaplain.

To learn more about the CPE program, visit the Cleveland Clinic Akron General website.

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