Being in hospice means having to travel quite a bit some days. I’ve learned all the places – grocery stores and gas stations especially – that have places to sit down and eat my brought lunch on the go. I remember walking in to a grocery store to sit down and have lunch during a particularly hectic day. I still had my ID on and when the person at the counter noticed that I worked for hospice, he said “you must have a very fulfilling job”.
I remember thinking for a minute, saying “yes it is”, paying for my coffee and sitting down, knowing that I wasn’t sure if I meant what I said.
The truth is that this is a very fulfilling job, some days. But not always, and not often most. Personally, many days are filled with anxiety beforehand about how I’m going to get done what I need to, planning my route so that I don’t end up downtown after 3pm and so on. Some days I can see half a dozen people and feel like I accomplished little else but meet the medicare requirements for my position. Other days I hear of a death of a patient and my first thought is “well at least that’s one stop off my list today!”
Does all this point to burnout? Maybe. Hospice has a high rate of burnout among staff and I’ve seen it happen. Individuals are drawn to hospice work because they are caring and want to make a difference no matter what the cost. This can mean crossed boundaries, late night calls, and overextension. And more often than not it’s those individuals that get the rewards and Kudos – rightfully so for putting themselves out there, but it can also feel to those that try to guard their boundaries and time that they are getting the short end of the stick.
I also feel that sometimes chaplains especially can feel that what they do doesn’t matter all that much in comparison to other disciplines. Nursing runs the show and calls the shots. Social workers can provide counsel and care as well as crisis intervention. Everyone can pray with and for their patients. Medicare doesn’t even necessitate that there is a chaplain on staff – only that spiritual counseling be available. This can make a chaplain feel as if he or she is a bit of a wallflower.
But can chaplaincy be a fulfilling job? Absolutely. The flip side of this myth is also a myth – that what I do doesn’t matter that much. When chaplains do what they are specifically trained to be good at – being present spiritually with another – this can be the most fulfilling job on the planet. Even when you’re sitting at a comatose patient’s bedside for an hour, or taking a demented patient outside for a breath of fresh air that he hasn’t had in probably six months, when it’s done in the proper mindset these can be incredibly fulfilling.
But the day-to-day often gets in the way. Being mindful of my own cares and worries and trying to put them aside when I’m with a patient makes a big difference in terms of how I perceive my contribution to their care.