Nomination Essay: The National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year Award – 2022

Home Sweet Office

Submitted by:  Apara Mahal Sylvester

I’m a writer and I struggled greatly to try and find just the right words to express why the Pastoral Care Department of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick Campus, a group comprised of six extraordinary individuals, are so deserving of the National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year award. 

In the end, I decided to share my personal story which will serve to exemplify why my colleagues are wholeheartedly deserving of this award by the impact they have made on my own life as well as the lives of countless others.

The Pastoral Care department, in support of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s mission of improving the health and well-being of the patients and community, serve the patients and staff in fostering an environment of excellence in pastoral care.  The Pastoral Care Department achieves this through the superb, caring and compassionate leadership of our director, Christine Davies, as well as a set of well-trained and dedicated chaplains and staff who create experiences of compassion and comfort one patient at a time.

Not long ago I shared a post with my LinkedIn network outlining nine reasons employees stay where they are.  These nine reasons describe Christine Davies perfectly and why all of us choose to stay and be a part of the department she leads:  1). Paid Well 2). Mentored 3). Challenged 4). Promoted 5). Involved 6). Appreciated 7). Trusted 8). Empowered 9). Valued

As a personal note to my post I added:

“This post exemplifies where I work 100%.  I LOVE my department and profession.  I plan on retiring from my role 22 years from now at age 70.  I have a passion and commitment for my colleagues and I have the BEST director anyone could ever ask for.  If this is not love then I don’t know what is.”

As of this writing, my LinkedIn Post has garnered over 4,600 views. I think it’s safe to say that it is now known worldwide that Christine Davies, Pastoral Care Director, is an extraordinary individual and leader.

About who I am (taken from my LinkedIn profile):  I am a Pastoral Care Coordinator.  The Pastoral Care department provides emotional and spiritual support to patients, family members and staff.  I administer pastoral support at Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health – New Brunswick Campus, a 610-bed academic medical center. I provide assistance to 6 staff members, 4 chaplain residents and 11 chaplain interns.

I joined the Pastoral Care Department as a Chaplain intern in 2017.  Prior to, I was an Emergency Room Registrar for 8.5 years.

I can’t recall the first time I ever noticed a Chaplain down in the Emergency Room.  One day I just did.  Among the medical staff in scrubs and white coats there was always this lone person standing in the foreground away from the hustle and bustle.  This person was identifiable in that they were the only person not clad in scrubs or a white coat.

I became curious as to who these people were so I spoke with them and found out that they were Chaplains.  The more I spoke with these chaplains the more intrigued I became with their work in helping and comforting others.

Through my many conversations with different Chaplains, I learned that the hospital’s Pastoral Care office had a Chaplain internship program which would allow a person to be a Chaplain intern, perform chaplaincy work while at the same time learning about chaplaincy.  I was thrilled to learn of this program and eager to apply.

I “accosted” many Chaplains as questions kept popping up regarding Chaplaincy, and their own experiences.  The chaplains became my allies and my champions.  I applied for the program, was accepted.  Well before the Pastoral Care office knew what I looked like, all in the office knew of the Emergency Room registrar who wanted to become a Chaplain.  Upon completion of my nine month chaplaincy training program I was hired into the department first as Secretary then later Office Coordinator.

My job description as Coordinator, Pastoral Care, is fairly straightforward; I provide office support.  Answer phones.  Effectively communicate information.  Write emails.  Order supplies.  My annual performance review is easy as my duties are tangible and quantifiable. 

The role of the hospital Chaplain, on the other hand, is often ambiguous and misunderstood.  It’s quite easy to write a job description saying one has superior communication skills and excels at writing.  It’s another thing to say that I provide emotional and spiritual support.  How do you even justify or quantify what this even means?

The best way to describe what a hospital Chaplain does is by example, my own example.

I know first-hand what my colleagues go through on a day to day basis on their mission to provide emotional and spiritual to others.  I’ve been in situations where I’ve watched a diligent and dedicated team of nurses and doctors work had to resuscitate a patient in cardiac arrest.  I’ve watched the patient’s heart monitor turn from irregular waves to a flatline.  I’ve been present when the head doctor has told the patient’s family that their loved one is no more.  When the doctors and nurses have left the room, It was I, the Chaplain, who remained behind to comfort the grieving family in whatever capacity I could, whether it be talking to the family and maybe even offering up a prayer should they be open to this.  Or, just standing in the corner of the room saying a silent prayer for the family and just being present.  Silence is also a form of emotional and spiritual support.

 “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent.’” – Alfred Brendel, Austrian Classical Pianist

In an “ordinary” job with a concrete and quantifiable job description, performance feedback is easy to garner.  In an extraordinary job, such as the Chaplain, feedback rarely comes our way.  But, we do the work that we do from our hearts and asking of nothing in return.

Recently, I was outside my residence and saw a few neighbors across the way.  One neighbor came over to me and told me that the neighbor she was with, lost her husband that very morning.  Though I didn’t really know this neighbor nor her husband, I went over and spoke with her. As it turned out, Joan’s (name changed) husband succumbed to cardiac arrest in the Emergency Room of my very own hospital.  When Joan found out that I worked for the Pastoral Care Department, despite her pain and grief, all she kept on talking about was one of our Chaplains who was present with her and how appreciative she was of him.  He sat with her, gave her space when needed, and was there for her.  She spoke so highly of this Chaplain over and over and she wanted to make sure that I told him how appreciative she was of him.  The very next day, I did tell him.

The Pastoral Care Department staff creates stories of care and compassion every day.  I, as the coordinator of this department, have the privilege and honor of serving and supporting these extraordinary individuals.

Almost twelve years ago, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, New Jersey, gave me a new start.  Almost four years ago, Christine Davies and the Pastoral Care Department gave me another new start my “Home Sweet Office”.

Every day, I wake up happy.  Whereas most people cringe at the dreaded morning alarm, I, on the other hand, wake up joyful because I’m so happy that I get to go back to the Pastoral Care Office for five days in a row.  I don’t have to clock-in until 8:30am but I’m always early, because I’m happy to go into the office.

I love my work.  I love my colleagues.  I respect and admire Christine Davies for her care, compassion and overall leadership of the department.  I admire the work that my Chaplain colleagues perform.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that I can’t think of anyone else more deserving of the National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year Award than my Chaplain colleagues -and family – of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

3 Comments

  1. What a wonderful, well-thought out essay on chaplaincy and the Apara Mahal Sylvester experience with it.Apara obviously loves her job and the people in the chaplaincy circle and I wish them all well, May these colleagues do well and good luck with Christine Davies in her nomination as Caregiver of the year award. Congratulations to all who do Gods work and may peace and happiness always be a part of your life. Great work, Apara, keep it up! God bless you in all you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a beautiful tribute to Christine Davies and all who work in the Pastoral Care department. It seems that you all are following God’s instructions as I stated in my book: “LOVE and CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER”

    Like

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