Following a surgery for pancreatic cancer, Carol S. learned that her pathology report that was less favorable than she had hoped. She told her caregivers she wanted to see a hospital chaplain — and that’s when she met the Rev. Randy Heinzeroth.He visited the 73-year-old patient in her room in Feinberg where they talked about her life, her faith and her diagnosis. “We prayed for healing, for strength and for recovery,” Rev. Heinzeroth says. “In times of suffering, many of us lean on our faith.”
Rev. Heinzeroth is one of five pastoral education residents in a new program on the downtown campus that trains future chaplains and benefits patients with additional staff available for spiritual support. As the program’s first year concludes in August, Pastoral Services prepares to welcome the next class of residents in September.
“It’s fairly typical for an academic medical center to have a clinical pastoral education, or CPE, residency program,” says Peter Strening, manager of Pastoral Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “With residents on our team, we can provide more direct care to patients and their families.”
Pastoral care residents are considered members of the staff, explains the Rev. Mark Bradley, the staff chaplain who supervises the residency program. Assigned to areas where patients and families often request pastoral services — such as the Emergency Department, inpatient oncology and intensive care — they become part of the patient care team.
“Part of the curriculum is learning how to respond to people of different faith traditions,” Rev. Bradley says. “The great thing is that often these lessons are learned experientially. Our patients and their families become teachers of their own faith traditions.”
The five residents in the program’s inaugural year come from a variety of professional backgrounds and religious traditions. For example, the Rev. Allyson Talbert is a deacon in the United Methodist Church. Rev. Heinzeroth is a motor sports minister at the Byron Dragway near Rockford. But all share a common goal: to continue their pastoral education through the residency and potentially become full-time chaplains.
“After my church job was eliminated, I decided to see if chaplaincy was something I wanted to do,” Rev. Talbert says. “Many of the patients I see are dealing with end-of-life issues, but a lot of times, patients and I are laughing and joking. I hear about their families, their hopes and dreams. It’s not always dire, and that has been a real delight of the residency.”
Other members of the care team say the residents have been invaluable. For example, the ED frequently sees patients who request a chaplain, but the small, core group of staff chaplains isn’t always able to handle the volume, says Eileen Brassil, practice manager in the ED. With a resident chaplain assigned to the department, more patients can receive the personal, spiritual care they need.
After Rev. Heinzeroth’s initial visit with the patient being treated for pancreatic cancer, he came by her room the following day to see how she was feeling. Carol S., a registered nurse who teaches at a college in River Grove, told him about her family and how fortunate she felt to have met him when she did.
“I’ve built up my faith over the years,” she says. “But you’ve got to have someone to talk with who knows more than you.”