Advice from a chaplain

These notes are as much for my future self as for anyone else. Tonight I listened to a chaplain at my church talk about hospital visitation. He’s a brother, and I was glad to hear his wisdom. He was speaking mostly to people who would be visiting family or other church members, but I did ask him a few questions afterwards as well. Here’s what I remember.

  • To find out what people need, just ask: “Hi, I’m Ben. How can I serve you today?”
  • The most important thing is to be available and be flexible. It’s important just to go visit, and if all they need is a glass of water, bring them water. If they tell you to leave, then leave. If they want you to stay and talk, then stay and talk.
  • If a patient is unresponsive, talk to them. You can talk about the game on TV, items in their room–keep it light.
  • Be aware of what people need. Beyond just asking them what they need (first bullet point), you might ask open questions.
  • Be open to share your faith if they ask, but otherwise, just be there for them.
  • As a physician, it’s perhaps most important to be able to break bad news gracefully. Tell them the news succinctly. Express sincerely that you are sorry for their loss. Pause briefly in case they need something, and then get out of there.
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