Back to Blog

How to Become a Chaplain

February 1, 2021  |  Category: Spiritual Care

A medical professional prays by a hospital window.

78% of Americans have a religious or spiritual affiliation, according to a Pew Forum research study. Chaplains are clergy who have been professionally trained to offer faith-based guidance to these individuals when they are suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Individuals who want to learn more about how to become a chaplain can consider pursuing a Master of Science in Spiritual Care degree.

What Does a Chaplain Do?

A chaplain’s role may vary depending on the environment they work in. For example, many chaplains work in hospitals, hospice agencies, or military units. What does a chaplain do in these settings?

Become a Hospital Chaplain

A primary duty of a hospital chaplain is offering spiritual support in the absence of a patient’s usual faith support system. For example, if a patient’s hospitalization keeps them from attending religious services, a hospital chaplain provides support. A chaplain can also serve patients who don’t have a spiritual leader or pastor.

Become a Hospice Chaplain

Hospice chaplains can also serve as spiritual counselors to patients who have religious concerns by working as specialized ministers at the bedside. Patients who are terminally or critically ill can have conversations with chaplains about spirituality. They can even convert to a religion if they have that desire.

Hospice chaplains often take on a role similar to that of social workers by advocating for patients and their treatment options. Hospice chaplains also demonstrate care for patients’ families, offering needed guidance and spiritual comfort. As professionals who work with patients, hospice chaplains plan and document their care and maintain professional records.

Become a Military Chaplain

A military chaplain offers counseling and spiritual support for military members who are dealing with personal or professional problems. Important aspects of working as a military chaplain are serving as a confidant for a variety of military members and exhibiting an understanding of the unique military lifestyle. A military chaplain coordinates nondenominational services for military units, giving spiritual guidance across a variety of belief systems.

How to Become a Chaplain

The following steps can help individuals understand the process of how to become a chaplain.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Chaplains are theologically educated ministers. They begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies or religious studies. Courses focus on church history, biblical worldviews, and critical thinking.

Many organizations require chaplains to have an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Spiritual Care, a master’s degree in divinity, or a similar degree. Graduate degrees prepare prospective chaplains for pastoral care in a variety of settings.

Step 2: Complete Training and Earn Certification

A variety of certifications are available to chaplains. Some chaplains who work in healthcare choose a 12-week Clinical Pastor Education (CPE) training program through the Association for Clinical Pastor Education. Other training programs are offered through accredited organizations across the country.

Additional certifications may be needed depending on where a chaplain works. For example, military, hospital, and hospice chaplains can be certified through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, or other professional organizations.

Step 3: Gain Experience

After earning a degree and receiving the necessary training and certification, chaplains who choose to work with patients can begin a healthcare residency. Many facilities recommend that chaplains complete a residency of two years while being supervised by a senior chaplain.

While completing a residency, chaplains can gain additional experience by working at different religious organizations as clergy members, assistant pastors, and ministers. They can develop essential skills that prepare them to take on leadership roles as chaplains and pastoral counselors.

Job Outlook and Salary

Working in a spiritual care occupation can yield a variety of benefits. Members of the clergy, including chaplains, earn an annual median salary of $50,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The type of work setting can affect salary levels. For example, chaplains who work in medical and surgical hospitals earn a median salary of $55,840, while those who are employed in home healthcare services earn approximately $58,070. States with the highest employment of professionals in this occupation include New York, California, Oregon, Texas, and Florida.

Earn a Master of Science in Spiritual Care

Working as a clinically trained minister enables a chaplain to provide spiritual guidance and care to diverse groups of people. Healthcare, hospice, and military chaplains guide and comfort patients from all religious backgrounds and belief systems, offering their expertise in settings where meaningful faith support is sorely needed and appreciated.

If you are interested in learning more about how to become a chaplain, explore how AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Science in Spiritual Care can prepare you for a rewarding career in the field.

Recommended Readings

AdventHealth University’s Master of Science in Spiritual Care Gains Important Accreditation Affirmation

Giving the Best End of Life Care

5 Types of Leadership Styles in Healthcare


Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc, “Certified Chaplains”

Intermountain Healthcare, “Chaplains and the Role of Spiritual Care in Healthcare”

National Association of Catholic Chaplains, “Chaplains Are More Than What Chaplains Do”

Pew Forum, “Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics and Statistics”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Clergy”