Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Safe Side of the Bed

New Chaplain Students

Last week’s blog was about how my patients in treatment and active follow up do not have a summer vacation.

Our hospital’s summer period offers training for chaplains, faith leaders, and lay people as well as future MD’s, RN’s etc. Many faith traditions require the C.P.E. [clinical pastoral education] program we offer. This past week was the beginning for our summer program. People come to this program for many reasons and often leave transformed differently than they initially expected. They are in for anything BUT a summer vacation!

Ten people come together for 10 weeks in this intensive immersion program. There are no restrictions of age or faith tradition to participate. The goal is to learn how to be present with those in crisis, illness, suffering and celebration as well as reflect on their own reactions and feelings. They respond to all who come through the doors as a fellow human; that’s the only assumption allowed!

As a mentor, not supervisor, I think I have the best of all positions during this time. I get to know each of the students and watch their interactions as the program begins and progresses. Many a thesis paper has been written on group dynamics. I love to watch the dynamic unfold every summer. Who is a leader? Is this person leading from a place of strength or fear? Who is quiet? Are they quiet because they absorb every detail and nuance or is he or she paralyzed with fear entering this program? There are too many emotions and dynamics to begin to reflect here, that’s for sure!

The CPE students are oriented by the permanent staff as well as the chaplain residents who are leaving after their own 10 month program. This process takes just three days. On the night of that third day the first summer student in the rotation takes the house pager and is alone overnight. In the morning we all gather to hear the report of every pager call after 5:00pm the previous day. We do this so each of the daytime assigned Chaplains can follow up.

At the end of the report this past Friday morning the group burst into clapping. Were they relieved for the first who had a relatively common call night? Were they clapping from nervousness thinking about how their own first night might unfold? Ahhhhh, that is for the student and supervisor to talk about.

I am always fascinated and aware of how amazing the people are who come to spend their summer vacation in our academic program. Often as clinical staff we are aware of our position being one of the “safe side” of the bed. That means we are not a patient vulnerable to the medical processes.

It was a very long time ago when I visited my first patient. I will never forget the care and wisdom my mentor Rev. Konrad Kaltenbach offered me. I attempt to pay back his gift every summer.

May each of our summer students have the courage to discover their weaknesses and acknowledge the strengths yet undiscovered. For the CPE students, as they begin, they surely do not feel there is a safe side of the bed!

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