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INTRODUCTION

As a chaplain in the Palliative Care Department at MD Anderson Cancer Center, I work closely with doctors, nurses, and other clinicians every day. As a result, I constantly witness the many ways in which clinicians forge strong, healing relationships with vulnerable patients, and I see many parallels between the work that they do and my work as a spiritual adviser. Seriously ill patients see clinicians as much more than technical experts who diagnose and treat disease. They also expect their doctors and other clinicians to transcend traditional clinical roles and practice with great humanism. My role as a chaplain is well defined: I work purely in the spiritual domain. However, the lines blur for clinicians, who straddle the biomedical, psychosocial, and spiritual domains. I therefore believe that my work as a chaplain is highly relevant to the everyday practice of empathic clinicians.

SPIRITUALITY IN MY DNA

I come from a family of ministers and pastors, including my father, grandfather, and several uncles and cousins. My father first entered the ministry in Detroit when he was still working full time for the postal service. After working both jobs for a while, he decided to pursue ministry full time, so he moved our family from our comfortable and stable life in Detroit to a little town outside of Pittsburgh called Aliquippa. His position at the church in Aliquippa paid very little, so we went from living in our own nice house in Detroit to living in public housing, which was an experience that was hard for my three sisters and me to navigate, truly beyond words. I was just a third-grader at the time, and I was thinking, “I can't believe we're doing this.” My father had taken a huge leap of faith in order to pursue his calling. Fortunately, as he continued to nurture his commitment to religion, he got an offer to lead a larger church in another suburb of Pittsburgh four years later, which allowed me to witness the power of faith. His income was much greater than it had been in the previous position, so we soon got our own house again. Thank God for resolving our housing situation.

Besides working full time as a Pastor in his church, my father also brought formal religion into our home by continuing a family tradition that my grandfather started. He gathered our entire family around the table for Sunday morning devotion each week before we went to church. The rule of the house was that no matter how late we stayed out on Saturday night, we would have to get up and be at the table by 7 am for full devotion. My dad always cooked a big breakfast and read Scripture, and everyone in the family had to pray. My father had seven siblings, and I can remember times when several cousins were in town on holiday ...

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