Finding your calling is not always an easy task. For many of us, career paths shift before settling down into a job that ultimately becomes our life’s work.

Shawnee Mission Health chaplains Lois Perrigo and David Ross did not always intend to pursue a chaplain’s life. Perrigo was a college professor who researched the career after heeding her own advice to students to consider working in geriatric care due to aging baby boomers. However, it was not until after she was laid off from her job as a professor that she decided to pursue her Clinical Pastoral Education at SMH. Similarly, becoming a chaplain was never in Ross’s life plan, but he was drawn to the idea and now realizes the career is a perfect fit.

On any given day, Perrigo, Ross and a team of SMH chaplains can be found throughout the hospital praying with patients, supporting families and interacting with fellow associates. They provide education about advance directives, bereavement support, are available for crisis intervention and tend to other emergent issues.

“I am meeting people who are in crisis,” said Perrigo. “My goal is to provide a peaceful and supportive presence with those whom I come in contact. Providing bereavement support to families of deceased patients is an honor and privilege.”

Ross serves as the dedicated chaplain for the Intensive Care Unit, Cardiology and Surgery Department and especially loves working on the Behavioral Health Unit where he regularly conducts therapy groups for mental health and addiction recovery patients.

“It is not unlikely I will end up finishing the day sitting with a patient on the hallway floor of the Behavioral Health Unit,” said Ross. “But no two days are ever the same and chaplaincy is a ministry of interruption. You are often called upon to give attention to others or to show up at a moment’s notice.”

A rewarding calling

Chaplaincy is a profession that is not limited to the hospital setting and, as with any job, chaplains face challenges. However, many chaplains will tell you the rewards of their work far outweigh the challenges.

For Ross, the rewards are plentiful. He experiences the joy of hearing people’s life stories, and sometimes becomes part of the story by uniting a couple in marriage or celebrating new life.

“I am given permission to go places other people are not allowed to go,” said Ross. “I am allowed to spend a moment in your personal space, hear about your dreams, your secrets, your regrets and learn what you have learned.”

For Perrigo, she appreciates the opportunity to offer a peaceful presence and witness the calmness people feel after a prayer or gentle touch.

“In one day, I held the hand of a 90-year old woman having blood drawn, sat with a cancer patient receiving her first chemo treatment, prayed with someone preparing for surgery, and sat by an unconscious patient in the final hours of her life because no family was present—an exhausting but fulfilling day,” said Perrigo.

Part of Adventist Health System, SMH is a faith-based organization with a long-standing tradition of promoting not only physical and mental health, but also the spiritual wellbeing of patients, associates and the greater community. Perrigo was drawn to SMH because of the organization’s faith-based culture and strong commitment to its mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ.

Chaplains are not the only SMH associates embracing the faith-based culture. Many associates volunteer for the Spiritual Ambassador Program, a ministry that began at Florida Hospital in Orlando in the early 1990s and was recently adopted by AHS. The initiative allows associates to Extend the Healing Ministry of Christ by engaging their spiritual gifts in the workplace to support their colleagues. The program now includes more than 4,000 ambassadors.

“At Shawnee Mission Health, the spiritual growth of our patients and staff is not only the chaplain’s job—it’s everyone’s job,” said Ross. “That is the purpose behind the Spiritual Ambassador Program.”

Ambassadors have the unique opportunity of helping meet the spiritual needs of patients, families and staff. They volunteer because they have a desire to make a difference.

“Individuals who work in healthcare tend to be compassionate people,” said Perrigo. “The Spiritual Ambassador Program gives them the opportunity to do what they do every day and be spiritually sensitive in their work environment.”

Jackie Woods is a project manager/writer for Shawnee Mission Health.