After completing my Bachelor of Arts in English at Salisbury State University, I continued further in my educational pursuit to obtain my Masters of Divinity in hopes to work in a full-time ministry career. While making a decision on what internship to pursue as part of this graduate degree, I spoke to both a professor and the director of Career Services on separate occasions but on the same day.
They both inquired, “Have you considered hospital chaplaincy?”
Having had at least thirteen surgeries and over twenty hospitalizations, I responded to both of them, “Are you nuts?! All of my life I have been trying to get out of the hospital. Why would I want to work in one?!”
Finally, after some consideration about chaplaincy, I applied and served as a chaplain intern during the summer of 2002. This has been one of the best opportunities to which both my professor and director could have guided me! Not only do I share with others my gifts of caring and writing, the Lord has availed me multiple chances to empathize and understand patients and their families by reflecting on my own experiences as a patient. Today, as I reflect on those early childhood struggles I experienced, I laugh in admiration and continue to praise the Lord for how He has sculpted my life—never ceasing in molding me to a path of complete service to Him. Particularly, it is ironic how, during my early years, I dreaded going to hospitals to receive evaluations and treatments from a plethora of medical staff—searching for every opportunity to escape from there, and now, God has opened the door and given me the willingness to walk freely into this same place to serve those experiencing their own complex journeys.
Despite finding out my passion and responding to my calling to pursue chaplaincy, I had to consider various areas relating to the professional field in order to succeed along this path. On a practical note, I learned that a person with a disability needs to examine the physical setting and environment of the career. Is the facility handicap accessible? Are there plenty of handicap parking spaces? Do the parking spaces have additional space for me to lower my ramp and unload my chair? Despite having the support and enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one needs to check that he or she can easily access the entrances, elevators, ramps, bathrooms, and even office shelves.
In addition, along with the usual matching of one skills and interests to a future career, an individual who lives with physical challenges must further consider the physical tasks that need to be completed within the scope of the career selection as well as what accommodations he or she as well as the employer needs to make. For example, when pursuing hospital chaplaincy training, I quickly discovered the importance of one’s physical appearance, so I had to find clothes that appeared professional while also permitting me to function independently. Specifically, despite having a tool that helps me with buttons, I learned that elastic pants are easier for me. Further, I wear nice, neutral-colored tennis shoes since my braces do not coincide with dress shoes.
Moreover, as I began actually performing in my position, I developed my own unique ways of fulfilling the various responsibilities while meeting my own needs. In regards to actually giving pastoral care, when entering the room on my scooter, I find myself usually offering care from the end of the bed so as to not shuffle furniture nor interrupt communication with visitors. While I may not be able to physically touch the patient from this perspective, I have discovered that I can usually hold direct eye contact with them as well as place my hand at the end of the bed when offering prayer. Furthermore, when needing to rest from walking awhile, I sometimes sit next to a visitor to offer him or her care. This permits me the opportunity to reach the hurting individual both physically and emotionally as well as not interrupt my mission of pastoral care. Using opportunities of needing personal assistance, I find myself checking on staff while getting needs met. An example –when I request assistance with putting on a gown before speaking with a patient in isolation. While he or she ties the gown, I check how the staff member’s day is proceeding.
Along with determining the necessary adjustments that I personally had to make, I learned quickly, at the beginning of my career path, the importance for an employer to have an openness towards working with those who have physical challenges and to possess an accommodating spirit. For instance, during a phone interview with a hospital in the western part of the United States, the interviewer held a brief conversation with me and, despite my objections, hastily determined that I was not a good fit for the position due to the possible effects that the altitude might have upon me physically. Contrarily, during my in-person interview for a residency position in Indiana, one interviewer questioned how I would handle my on-call responsibilities due to my struggles with stamina and swift walking. I responded, “If you let me use my motorized scooter, I might get there faster than the doctors can.”
Overall, for a person with physical challenges to successfully maintain a career, it is similar to that of balancing a scale, possibly with the employee’s side weighing a little heavier to demonstrate his or her worthiness in the role. It involves a give-and-take process for both the employer and employee in order to meet the same goal with the best outcome. The scale will never balance if either side refuses to be flexible and unwilling to adjust.