In past lives, Steve Isles was an insurance analyst and Peter Fabre was a nuclear engineer. Now the two run into each other in the halls of Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, where each is learning the ropes of spiritual care as chaplain interns.

"We all need something that is new at some point in our lives," Fabre said, adding that he could not have appreciated fully the emotional subtleties of patients when he was younger. "As we age and go through the phases in life, what's important takes on a slightly different meaning."

The fields of pastoral care, ethics and spirituality are changing and growing for a number of reasons: an aging population, the evolution and increasing adoption of professional standards for pastoral care, and interest by mid-lifers looking for meaningful work.

Late this year, Arizona State University will add a master's program in applied ethics and the professions that will span all four campuses. Pastoral-care ethics and spirituality will be taught at the West campus, while the business, biomedical, environment and emerging technologies ethics programs will debut at the other campuses this fall.

Ethics, at least academically, is hot.

"It appears that with the economic crisis we have sort of a demand and interest in bringing that kind of training into the fields," said Martin Matustik, a professor coordinating ASU's master's in pastoral-care ethics. "It will be interesting to see if companies and corporations will incorporate that need."

The work is challenging for people schooled to be pastors or priests in their own religions.

Chaplains and other care workers may not proselytize, preach or be perceived as giving medical advice. They are there to listen and to help patients explore their own questions.

For all of the summer interns at Banner, each of whom is on at least a second career, the rich interplay with other religions has been one of the most rewarding facets of the job. As they go from room to room, they might encounter a Muslim, a Catholic, a Jew or a Presbyterian, all on the same round.

"I'm learning a lot more about other religions," said intern Hugo Soutus, a priest at Dormition of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Phoenix. "I'm learning a lot about people going through difficult times."

Pastors and chaplains have been around, of course, for ages. What has changed is the type of people seeking work in the field and pursuing the level of education the work demands.

"Many more people are taking up ministry as a second career," said Toni Wolf, who supervises Banner Thunderbird's pastoral education program. "It used to be that you simply didn't have middle-aged folks or even people in their 30s going back to seminary, where now that is very, very common. Now young folks are not very common at all."

The professionalism required by hospitals, prisons and other institutions that employ chaplains is becoming more standardized as well.

Isles will have to show that he has mastered 29 "competencies" to become board-certified.

That is the norm.

"There are standards being introduced for chaplains, especially in health-care facilities, as part of their own accreditation," Wolf said. "Most places hiring full-time are requiring them to be certified. That's why it seems to be a new thing. There is a lot more professional approach to the whole thing."

Matustik expects most of the students in the ASU program to be working professionals or recent graduates who need a master's to get started in bereavement, trauma, chaplaincy or veterans affairs. Professors will work closely with the School of Social Work. Not all ethicists will be religion-based.

While volunteering at Hospice of the Valley, Matustik discovered a lack of educational opportunities for end-of-life caregivers and he wanted to send interns to fill that gap. The students will be armed with centuries of thought on ethics and reasoning.

"We sort of discovered in conversations with chaplains that there is no specific training for chaplains and ethicists that is interfaith and that even translates to hospice care," Matustik said. "They are not necessarily ready to work in a hospice situation. Nationwide, there is no specific training for hospice."

by Lesley Wright

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