MDiv senior Richard Anthony Anderson reflects on his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) rotation at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital during the summer of 2017. Anderson sought to refine his pastoral abilities and test his call to ministry in a hospital setting through CPE and says that the experience, although challenging, is one that he is incredibly grateful for.
Q: How did you choose Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital?
A: I had no idea field education was going to be everything that it turned out to be, and I definitely underestimated what I was getting myself into. I had my heart set on doing CPE at Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but I sent in my application late due to a trip to Israel during J-term. When I called the hospital to follow up, a former supervisor of mine from five years earlier answered the phone, and then I knew that God was at work! And, by God's grace I was accepted into the program.
Q: What was a typical day like?
A: After arriving in the morning, whoever was on call throughout the night would give a briefing as to what had taken place. Our morning education session followed. Then it was time for the rubber to meet the road; it was time to go and knock on doors and see how patients were faring. I was assigned to three floors: oncology, respiratory care, and mental health, and I would visit patients over the course of the day.
Field education allowed me to get dirt underneath my fingernails, to see whether I can do ministry in the real world. It gave me a chance to apply everything I had learned in the classroom and begin to discern my call.
Q: What did you have to learn on the job?
A: One of the biggest hurdles was to knock on the door and get engaged in an actual patient visit. I struggled with doubts—I was just a student, after all. I didn’t think that I was adequately prepared to do this work or that God could use me; I felt like I was lacking in experience. It was amazing to see how God worked, to hear the words coming out of my mouth, and to recognize the impact I had not only on the patients, but on their families and the hospital staff.
One patient asked me to be present for her bone marrow transplant. Oddly enough, I knocked on her door purely by mistake—she wasn’t in my unit. She was in the hospital because her cat bit her and, upon visiting the doctor afterward, it was discovered that she had cancer. I’m an animal person, too—I raise horses—so we connected really well. We began wondering together about whether the cat, who had always been friendly, bit her to save her life. I asked if I could pray with her before I left, and she asked me if I could be there for her bone marrow transplant. And, a few weeks later, I was with her when she walked out of the hospital. It was extremely rewarding to be with a patient through that whole experience.
Q: How much demand was there for a minister during your overnight shifts?
A: I set the record twice for the number of visits I had during overnight shifts: 28 and 31. The different situations I encountered—infant mortality, gunshot, stroke, someone being transported by a medevac helicopter—were very challenging and very powerful. I learned that the most important part of doing meaningful ministry is to let God lead the way.
Q: How did your time at Robert Wood Johnson enrich your experience at PTS?
A: Field education allowed me to get dirt underneath my fingernails, to see whether I can do ministry in the real world. It gave me a chance to apply everything I had learned in the classroom and begin to discern my call.
“Princeton Seminary helped me think critically and understand the relationship that humanity has with religion—historically, emotionally, and spiritually.”