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AdventHealth University Launches New Master’s Degree in Spiritual Care

AdventHealth University photo

Hospital chaplains provide spiritual care to patients as well as staff and visitors. Photo provided by AdventHealth University

AdventHealth University (AHU) has added a new Master of Science in Spiritual Care (MSSC) degree to its online department in collaboration with AdventHealth, a national, faith-based health system. This is the first theological degree from the university. The mission-focused curriculum will prepare graduates to address spiritual needs in the delivery of whole-person care.

AdventHealth employs more than 150 chaplains across its multi-state territory. During the next five years, the organization anticipates a growing need for chaplains as some enter retirement and additional chaplaincy roles are created for the expanding health care system.

 “The planning of the [MSSC] has been a collaborative effort between the university and the health care system,” said Terry Shaw, AdventHealth president/CEO, in a letter of support for the program’s accreditation. “University officials and faculty have worked closely with spiritual care and chaplaincy leaders from the health care system to design this program. We believe it will be a significant compliment to whole-person care and that it will provide well-trained chaplains and leaders to sustain our mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ.”

Only two education institutions in the North American Division prepare chaplains specifically for hospital ministry, which “is simply not adequate to fulfill the current and future needs of AdventHealth,” said Stan Dobias, D.Min., MSSC program director. He led a committee of AdventHealth leaders and AHU faculty in the program’s development.

“The MSSC was envisioned a little more than five years ago as an opportunity for AHU and AdventHealth to collaborate in more connected ways by bringing the excellence and resources of graduate education, online platforms and academic experts, along with the expertise of clinical providers, in preparing chaplains who will serve in and out of AdventHealth,” Dobias said.

For almost 30 years, AdventHealth has sponsored an accredited Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program offering theological education for ministry of all types taught in a clinical setting. The CPE’s integration into the MSSC program offers the experiential aspect of chaplaincy preparation from a robust program with a legacy for educating board-certified chaplains.

AdventHealth has five accredited CPE centers across five states, including its Orlando, Florida, campus. Additionally, there are more than 300 Association for Clinical Pastoral Education-accredited centers in the U.S., allowing MSSC students to access CPE training wherever they live while completing their coursework online.

AdventHealth’s Ted Hamilton, M.D., chief mission integration officer; Jay Perez, vice president of mission and ministry; and Ramona Reynolds, executive director of ministry education and research, were named as key AdventHealth leaders who played an instrumental role in developing and launching the program.

“AHU's program welcomes students from all faiths, and will be developing specialties that allow students to supplement their learning with specialties in bioethics, mission leadership and health care administration — leveraging the academic expertise that already exists at AHU,” Reynolds said.

Students preparing for employment at AdventHealth will take classes in Seventh-day Adventist doctrines and participate in pastoral mentoring programs that will provide congregational connection and experience.

“This degree will serve both Adventists and candidates from other faith traditions, creating a powerful learning environment to advance the mission of ‘Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ,’” said AHU president Edwin I. Hernández.

AdventHealth’s brand promise is to help people feel whole. Spiritual care, a component of whole-person care, is key to meeting a patient’s needs in addition to addressing their physical pain. By understanding the importance of spiritual and mental wellness to a person’s overall health, AHU’s graduates are better prepared to become practitioners and advocates of whole-person care.

— Lisa Marie Esser is communications manager at AdventHealth University.