Volunteers: Profiles Help Pastoral Caregivers Serve Hurting Patients, Families

Jodie O’Shannassy and her hospital volunteers use LFYS to gain understanding for each other and those they serve

Hospital chaplain Jodie O’Shannassy serves with three other leaders to coordinate a team of 30-40 pastoral care volunteers serving in hospitals that are part of the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service (DDHHS) throughout southern Queensland, Australia.

Jodie O’Shannassy

“My minister used the Leading From Your Strengths profiles and process at a church leadership weekend,” says Jodie. “I got so much insight about myself that I decided to share the process with my own team.”

Jodie’s pastoral care volunteers at Toowoomba Base Hospital meet every morning for devotions before visiting patients on the wards. Jodie introduced the profiles to these volunteers as a way to learn more about each other so they could provide the best care possible for patients.

Which is just what was needed for these volunteers who listen, provide counsel, and offer hope to so many hurting patients and families.

Develop Volunteer Strengths and Build a Team

One or two staff chaplains cannot provide the level of coverage that an entire pastoral team is able to offer for Toowomba Base Hospital’s 384 beds.

For this reason, Jodie and her colleagues in leadership spend a tremendous amount of time recruiting, training, mentoring and coaching pastoral care volunteers. In turn, the volunteers work very closely together to ensure that hospital patients, families, and staff receive the spiritual and emotional support they need. Empathy and depth are intrinsic to their role.

And while existing team members got along well, explains Jodie, new members joining the team means an adjustment for everyone. The Leading From Your Strengths process has played a key role in helping new members assimilate onto the team and onboard into their pastoral care role smoothly.

“People often feel misunderstood or embarrassed about their ‘personality,’ says Jodie. “The LFYS tool allows team members to share openly and in a safe space about who they are, how they think, and why they do the things they do.”

Honesty and fun prevailed during the LFYS debriefing process as team members discussed different ways they approach situations with patients and shared how patient situations affect each of them differently. “There has been a new depth to the relationships around our table and people are genuinely interested in discovering ‘who’ the other people they serve with really are,” says Jodie.

The volunteers were quite taken by the different strengths that showed up in their peers and were even surprised with their personal results. Margaret’s strengths, for instance, were reported on the task-oriented side of The Strengths Wheel. Yet she had always believed herself to be more people-oriented. After some conversation, group members suggested that maybe people were her task. This insight made so much sense to other team members that several have since said that they understand Margaret’s behavior much better.

Since the initial LFYS training and debrief, the team has arranged to get together regularly to talk about their discoveries. “The team still bring up the results of the profiles in discussions and use the concepts to ask questions and gain understanding about each other,” says Jodie. “It has been encouraging to watch the inquisitive conversations.” The group is committed to being more intentional about finding out how and why others feel, think, and respond to patient situations the way they do.

Recognize Staff Strengths and Translate for Them

The hospital’s pace and environment of urgency can mean compassion is not always translated as accurately as medical professionals would like. But thanks to the profiles, Jodie’s team of pastoral care volunteers have more understanding around how people react to circumstances and can put that insight to use.

Stephanie, for instance, encountered a doctor who responded abruptly to patient and family questions.  As an advocate for the patient’s emotional well-being and dignity, Stephanie knew she needed to intervene. Yet because of her LFYS training, she understood the doctor’s motivation.  “I could see he was highly task-oriented and wanted the patient to do the task he was requesting to achieve a positive outcome,” said Stephanie.

She was able to immediately communicate those insights to the patient and his family. By quickly acknowledging the doctor’s concern for the patient, Stephanie helped bring about a much more helpful and pleasant interaction for all.

“The profiles help us not only to recognize our strengths as pastoral care providers, but to see strengths in the staff, too,” says Jodie. “We  can ‘translate’ that compassion to patients and families who need understanding in the middle of difficult circumstances.”

Jodie is convinced that any leader, regardless of the workplace setting, can benefit from using Leading From Your Strengths.

“It is vitally important that managers and bosses involve themselves in the Leading From Your Strengths process with their teams,” says Jodie. “If you’re a leader, you’ll find a treasure in this tool because it will help you learn to manage people and equip them to use their strengths.”

Jodie O’Shannassy is a hospital chaplain with Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service in Queensland, Australia. She also serves with Hop N Hymns, a local music ministry that provides church worship music and pub outreach in rural communities. Jodie lives in Toowoomba, Queensland, where she is an active member of St Bart’s Anglican Church.

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