“Words of encouragement lift the spirits of patients and promote recovery and healing.”
Tom Vallie has been a familiar face throughout the halls of Pardee since 2008 when he first started making spiritual care visits at the hospital. Many of the elderly parishioners from his church, St. James Episcopal, were frequently hospitalized and Vallie would visit them as a Stephen Ministry leader.
It did not take long before staff at the hospital realized how helpful and encouraging it was to have Tom there. He began volunteering nights and weekends for emergency calls at the Emergency Department and throughout the hospital. Two years into volunteering, Tom was able to participate in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course, which is part of the professional training for hospital chaplains.
In his time spent volunteering with spiritual care services, Tom realized the unique role of the chaplain is sometimes misunderstood by patients and families. “Some are in fear of seeing a chaplain, thinking we only show up when someone is near death,” he said. “Others imagine that a chaplain is there to evangelize and promote a particular kind of religion by twisting arms and invoking fire and brimstone.” He explained that chaplains do not preach, cajole, or finger-point. “We take each person as they are, whether they have faith or none, are members of a church, synagogue, temple or mosque or none. In all actuality, trained chaplains leave their own beliefs and expectations at the door and focus on the spiritual well-being of each person.”
When Pardee Cancer Center opened in 2016, Tom was asked to provide spiritual care there as chaplain to patients, family members, and staff at the cancer center. He continues in that role today and shares that staff members are themselves in need of support and encouragement as they face intense caseloads and the stress of working with – and sometimes losing – very sick patients they have come to know. “The truth is that staff are the first line for promoting the spiritual aspects of care,” Tom said. “Their presence, demeanor, kindness, and words of encouragement lift the spirits of their patients, increase their cooperation with treatment and promote recovery and healing.”
As to why he chose the cancer center for his volunteer work, Tom says, “I chose to serve at Pardee Cancer Center because the needs of patients there fit my desire, training and experience to serve the most seriously ill patients. Providing spiritual care also offers me the opportunity to work with patients and families over weeks and even months rather than with single visits typical with inpatient care.”
Volunteering remains an important part of helping the hospital provide high-quality and compassionate care to the community and it shows the selflessness of individuals as they come alongside those in a time of need. “I am continually inspired by the strength, hard work, knowledge, compassion and dedication of our staff at the cancer center,” Tom said. “They keep me coming back.”
Interested in volunteering with UNC Health Pardee? Click here to learn more.