My Summer as a Hospital Chaplain

by Ritchie Ortiz-Juarez on October 8, 2019

I am very thankful to God for choosing Mount Sinai Hospital as the place where I spent my entire summer engaged in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). The CPE course exists to teach pastoral care in a hospital setting to students who are studying to be ordained ministers. CPE is both a multicultural and interfaith experience that puts students in real-life ministry encounters to improve the ministry and pastoral care provided by caregivers.

Mount Sinai Hospital is one of Chicago’s busiest level-one trauma centers.  It was an eye-opening experience to be able to work among the poorest and most underserved people of Chicago. As a sociology major in college, I often read statistics about gun violence, interpersonal violence, gang violence, elder abuse, and drug abuse but I never actually experienced it firsthand as I did in this hospital setting.

As a chaplain, I was able to provide an important ministry for those I encountered. It was incredible how easily the people I met created a unique bond with me as a chaplain, sharing very personal thoughts and stories that they normally would not even share with their doctors or nurses. I was able to participate in and encourage this by showing compassion, being empathetic, coaching patients to create recovery goals, and—most importantly—by simply listening to them.

It was a blessing to learn more about the realities of life in Chicago and how Mount Sinai Hospital is making an impact in the community. This experience will help me in my future ministry as a parish priest to better serve and understand what people of many backgrounds and faiths are going through.

My time at the hospital included moments of tragedy and triumph. A few highlights from my CPE experience included: seeing the joy when a patient’s baby was born, administering emergency baptisms, and witnessing patients overcoming human frustration through different complex situations and eventually reaching a calmer and more peaceful state. I could truly see God present and active in the lives of others. A few low points I will never forget included: seeing patients suffer, comforting family members in anguish, knowing of patients and teenagers dying tragically, and seeing babies die.

I would say that I have learned that we as human beings are so fragile in God’s hands, and that we have limits that we do not think about or see when we are young. Overall, CPE has been one of the most transformative and rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life.

Ritchie Ortiz-Juarez