Health Care

Residency program helps hospital chaplains better serve patients, families

Dan Boggs is in the chaplain residency program at Wesley Medical Center.
Dan Boggs is in the chaplain residency program at Wesley Medical Center. The Wichita Eagle

Volunteering as a fire department chaplain in Illinois for six years sparked the Rev. Dan Boggs’ interest in becoming a board-certified chaplain. He believes it was a bit of divine intervention years later that led him to a hospital in his hometown of Wichita where he’s now in the middle of a one-year residency.

In health care, not only do physicians undergo residency training, but so can the chaplains who take care of the spiritual needs of patients, families and staff members.

Boggs is one of five chaplains completing a residency at Wesley Medical Center, which offers the area’s only clinical pastoral education (CPE) residency program accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. It has offered its education program since 1968.

Three medical centers in the Kansas City area also offer clinical pastoral education programs accredited by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE is required to become a board-certified chaplain.

Wesley and Via Christi Health require staff chaplains to have a graduate-level theological education, clinical pastoral education, and be ordained and endorsed by their faith groups, along with being board certified or eligible for certification.

“Often people don’t realize that there’s a lot of professional education involved”, a Wesley chaplain and director of its pastoral care education program. “It’s a very different ministry.”

One day a week, the five residents in the program, along with six volunteer interns, meet for classroom instruction, presentations and group discussions related to providing spiritual care and emotional support for people of all faiths, as well as no faith, who are undergoing difficult times.

On other days, including nights and weekend shifts, the residents are available to patients, families and staff or are on call to offer triage chaplain services for emergency room, trauma or dying patients and their families.

Sometimes, they are there for happy times, like on New Year’s Day when Boggs officiated a wedding for a Wesley employee in the chapel built in 1950 that is now ensconced within Wesley Medical Center’s walls.

“The vast majority of our education isn’t book learning,” Boggs said. “It’s a lot of self-reflection, which can be difficult.”

It’s a model of learning often called action-reflection.

Chaplains have a different focus than clergy of a specific congregation, according to Boggs and Harthon.

“It’s all about people and their spiritual needs,” said Boggs, during an interview in a second, smaller chapel within Wesley Medical Center. “You have to be able to minister to people of all faiths. When I was a fire department chaplain standing with someone watching their house burn down, it didn’t matter where we went to church. It was a spiritual encounter.”

When I was a fire department chaplain standing with someone watching their house burn down, it didn’t matter where we went to church.

Rev. Dan Boggs

After graduating from Wichita West High School in 1974 with no intention of following in his father’s footsteps as a minister, Boggs spent 20 years in the Air Force. He eventually went to seminary and served as a Church of Christ minister in Texas, Illinois and Connecticut. He did chaplain internships at two hospitals in the Austin, Texas, area.

Boggs had been accepted for residency with an accredited program at a Houston-area hospital when he and his wife started wondering if they needed to be closer to Wichita, as his in-laws’ health was failing. He said the couple prayed about it on a Sunday, and the next day he received an e-mail from a friend, telling him of an opening in Wesley’s residency program.

Once he finishes his residency in August, Boggs will need to complete one year, or 2,000 hours, of full-time chaplaincy and prepare written material to be eligible for board certification.

After that, a chaplain must complete 50 hours of continuing education a year.