Hospice Chaplain fact #1: We work too hard

Earlier this year I attended a conference for the Association of Professional Chaplains in Chicago. During the day there was a breakout session for hospice chaplains to get together and network. One thing we all found out was that most of us are stretched incredibly thin. It was relatively common for a single chaplain to have 75 or even over 100 patients on their caseload. Personally I can attest that we all tend to work too hard, myself included. For a while I had a caseload of about 100 patients which were spread out over four counties. There was no talk of hiring another chaplain, but after a while the management did hire one part-time which soon became full time. I ran into another chaplain locally who said that he had over 150 patients that he saw, and he also had his own church to manage! 

Hospice workers tend to have high instances of burnout, which is characterized by a depletion of internal resources, feelings of discouragement and negative self-image, and neglect of other personal relationships. While there has been research on burnout among hospice nurses, there hasn’t been as much on the supportive services such as hospice social workers and chaplains, though it is discussed often in reference to military and emergency responder chaplains.

Still, I often come home tired and cranky. The days often feel like one rush after another, but none of these are real “emergencies”. I want to recharge during the day, but often feel pressured to get something else done when I do have down-time. Part of this for me is my own fear and lack of security. I had been let go once from a prior job on spurious grounds, and I feel now that I have to work harder than ever to show myself to be valuable to the company. Hospice and other caring-focused jobs can also attract Type-A personalities and others who work hard and may not have the best boundaries to say “no” to extra work.

This is remarkable given that one of the necessary components of chaplaincy is self care. Why is this so hard to do? I find I tend to defeat myself when I am most in need of spiritual and emotional rescue. When I long for rest, I put it aside when I have it because I see some other need as more important. Those of us who are “doers” probably fall into this same trap.

At least today I found the time to put off an unnecessary visit and write for a while instead.


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