From time to time I’ve been asked “so how do I become a Chaplain?”. While I usually answer with a laundry list of things to do to prepare, train and ultimately become certified, the real answer is – it depends. It depends not only on what you do to prepare to be a chaplain but also on what employers expect from a Chaplain. And sometimes these two areas are quite different from each other.
Professionally, chaplaincy seems at times like a fractured mess. There are several competing – and several cooperating – groups that offer certification to Chaplains working in areas including health care and community settings. These programs address the core competencies of chaplaincy but do so in very different ways. Acceptance of these certifications often varies, often depending on the nature of the context of ministry as well as the availability of CPE programs in the area. Some institutions recognize APC only, while others will recognize most any certification, and still others don’t even require it for someone to function as a Chaplain.
Personally I find this rather troubling. One hospice for example requires Chaplains to be certified through APC, meaning they have completed the required CPE training and gone through a rather rigorous certification process. Another hospice requires only that a Chaplain be ordained and have some prior experience in ministry. In the field, at least in Pennsylvania, both are Chaplains. It’s clear however that one will have a vastly different level of experience and education than another.
I can think of several reasons why hospice A and hospice B have such different perceptions of what makes a “professional” Chaplain, some from direct experience and others from speculation. However the fact that I can think of a dozen or so reasons why Chaplain A and Chaplain B are both considered “chaplains” shows a glaring problem: a lack of recognized standards at the state and national level.
Consider other professional positions in the health care industry. To be hired as a hospice social worker requires at least a BS or BA, more often a MSW, and professional licensure bestowed by the state board. To be an RN or LPN requires completing an approved program, licensure, and continuing education. Certified Nursing Assistants must also graduate from an approved program and be licensed by the state.
There are of course Chaplain certification programs such as CPSP, APC, SCA, JCC and so on. The Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc. (BCCI) have typically been seen as the “gold standard” regarding competencies and certification. But other certifying bodies do not share the same methodology or requirements for Chaplain certification. I think these certifying bodies are all trying to measure the same competency in different ways. However there is still no clear standard that certification programs must all measure up to.
Which is why eventually I think there will need to be a move beyond the current model of certification through independent bodies to one of licensure at the state level. This will put them at equal footing with social workers and counselors, and perhaps allow for Medicare to make Chaplain hours billable as well. This does not mean that certifying bodies such as BCCI and CPSP will go away. These bodies will each have their own specific and unique ways of training individuals to be professional Chaplains, and maybe certification will continue to be a part of the licensure process. However I feel these certification programs will best serve their members as well as the communities they serve by ensuring their members adhere to a state or national standard. Licensure will help to ensure that a Chaplain certified through the SCA is treated equally with those of BCCI and CPSP in the marketplace.
Licensure will also help to ensure that professional Chaplains will continue to have a seat at the table in professional settings such as hospitals and hospices. Because health care agencies cannot bill for Chaplain services, their very inclusion signifies a cost that must be absorbed by the organization. Hospitals are able to bill Medicaid and Medicare for visits by nurses, aides, social workers and therapists – but not Chaplains. This automatically puts Chaplains at a disadvantage in the marketplace. When costs rise, non-billable services are some of the first that will be scaled back or even cut out. Already I’ve seen facilities that have had full time Chaplains move to having multiple on-call or even casual Chaplains to cut costs. And while hospice regulations currently require hospices to have “pastoral or other counselors” available on staff, these counselors are not required to be certified or even non-certified Chaplains.
I believe that for Chaplaincy to have a long and vibrant future, there needs to be a push toward licensure. I feel this would come best from all of the main certifying bodies acting together to put this before our legislative bodies. To accomplish that, there need to be common standards and a common agreement regarding equivalency and reciprocity among certifying bodies. These groups need to work together to ensure not only their own survival but the survival of Chaplaincy in general. Honestly, if the only thing that comes from this movement is that, I’d be very happy.