A week ago Saturday, on a beautiful, idyllic afternoon, I took BART to Berkeley to go for a walk in Tilden Park with Lisa M., who reminded me to “discover, not decide.” She said that what I need to do will become obvious in time, and if that’s after starting clinical pastoral education at TWMC and means I end up dropping out, then so be it. She reminded me that I don’t have to decide now what I’m going to do in a year, or even in six weeks. I’m not quite convinced in regard to the latter.
One day in class a week or so ago, I talked about my decision and afterward, Samantha told me that if I don’t plan to be at TWMC in September, I need to let them know by August first, which greatly increased my stress. I got a chance to discuss it last Monday with Jacqueline, Samantha’s boss. She said that Samantha does not have experience hiring chaplains and she does, and that even for a per diem or part-time hospital chaplain position she would not interview someone who had not completed their academic education.
Further, she said, she would not be interested in someone who had done a year of CPE and subsequently completed her education, because she figures that person’s clinical skills and assessment models are out of date. In addition, whereas Buddhist chaplains were once a novelty, we no longer are. (Jacqueline herself is Buddhist.)
I was delighted to hear this, since it came from a knowledgeable party and suggested it would not be a good idea to start at TWMC this fall. For the umpteenth time, I decided that once the summer unit of CPE ended, I would start looking for a job at my old company. I could maybe work there until retirement, and I’d be able to volunteer at the soup kitchen and go to Howie’s sangha every Tuesday night. Which doesn’t sound so bad.
But then I remembered how I used to sit in my cubicle thinking, “I totally don’t care about this work. This is my life passing by.” And then I got to wondering why TWMC even accepted me for a year of CPE if they know it means I’m going to be painting myself into a corner professionally. I hadn’t wanted to discuss my reservations with them because I didn’t want them to think I was going to flake on them, but at this point, I felt I had no choice, so I sent a detailed email sharing what Jacqueline had said, without using her name.
The very next morning, there was a reply from Paul, the director of spiritual care services at TWMC and a person with a national reputation in this field (and yet another Buddhist), saying that it would indeed be challenging, though not impossible, to get a position as a staff chaplain at a hospital before one’s academic study is done, but that he does not agree that doing school after CPE means one’s clinical skills would be out of date. He said I would “definitely disprove that assertion” if I were able to regularly work per diem shifts during my academic years and that such hours would count toward becoming certified.
Berta, one of the CPE supervisors there, added that she is looking forward to meeting me in September and said that the academic training only takes one and a half to three years full-time and she can’t imagine that clinical skills three years old at most would be out of date. She said she’s still using skills she learned in CPE in 2002.
Samantha said in our weekly meeting that she was glad I decided to tell TWMC about my concerns and ask for their feedback. I said I felt I had no other choice: they must have let me into their yearlong program for some good reason, and they’re the only ones who know what that reason is, so I had to ask them. Samantha said I could have just sent them a note saying I was dropping out of the program, so she applauded that I took the risk of asking them.