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Reverend Ken Burg's card at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis listed his office and pager numbers, his affiliation with the Spiritual Care and Pastoral Education department, and specified his position of Chaplain on the Advanced Heart Failure Team. He had been hired because the Minneapolis Heart Institute, a part of Abbott Northwestern, requested that a chaplain join a team already composed of doctors, surgeons, nurses, coordinators, pharmacists and social workers in order to to meet all of a patient's needs during their stay. Rev. Burg admitted that patients were sometimes confused or irritated by his presence when they first met the care team. On one occasion, an agnostic patient unceremoniously asked him to "get out" after he had introduced himself alongside the patient's doctors.1
Rev. Burg said that, as a chaplain, it is important to never take getting kicked out of a patient's room personally. "I knew the patient was very lonely, so I didn't give up," and on a subsequent visit," I said I'm not here to talk about religion. I'm just here to support you." Over time, his visits with the patient grew to be between 30 and 60 minutes long and they became good friends.
A patient's confusion about the role of a hospital chaplain is understandable given that Merriam-Webster defines 'chaplain' as "a priest or other Christian religious leader who performs religious services for a military group (such as the army) or for a prison, hospital, etc." Yet this definition is a woefully inadequate representation of the realities of modern hospital chaplaincy. This exhibit explores the history and role of the modern-day hospital chaplain, as well as some of the misconceptions about their jobs that they encounter daily.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotations and other information come from interviews conducted by Kevin Dowling during the fall of 2013. ↩